Kent County Council budget plans include reducing the cash cut in subsidised bus services

Bus service proposals

Kent County Council is to reduce the amount of the planned cuts to subsidised bus travel.

Proposals were originally to cut funding for Socially Necessary Bus Services (SNBS) in a bid to save £4million.

Some 78 SNBS contracts looked likely to be axed, including the 41-42a Monkton to Ramsgate service. But, as part of forthcoming budget proposals KCC says the subsidy cut will now be £0.45 million.

A spokesman said: “We believe there are smarter, more responsive ways to deliver these services. We intend to arrange a whole series of big conversations with parish councils and communities on how this can be delivered. The proposed budget sees an additional investment of £500,000 to fulfil these ambitions.”

The proposals caused outcry across Kent with petitions, including one to save the Monkton bus, being raised.

Thanet Labour member and county councillor Barry Lewis said the withdrawal of services due to subsidy cuts would hit “the elderly, disabled, carers and school children.”

He said the unemployed would be sanctioned for missing appointments and many people would find themselves isolated and “trapped in their houses.”

The proposals were headed up by Kent County Councillor Matthew Balfour but he was removed from his role as a Cabinet member earlier this month.

Cllr Balfour was the Conservative cabinet member for planning, highways, transport and waste since February 2015.

Cllr Mike Whiting has now been appointed as Cabinet Member for Planning, Highways, Transport and Waste.

The county budget

In the coming financial year, KCC has a budget gap of £113 million out of the council’s net budget of approximately £1 billion.

Savings of £53 million are needed as government funding reduces by £45 million, coupled with the rising demand for services, particularly for children’s and adult social care and linked to inflation costs currently rising at more than 3% a year.

KCC says it is continuing to make savings through efficiency and productivity, effective commissioning and procurement, service transformation and judicious use of the council’s reserves.

But the authority says it is fast reaching the point where frontline services are now threatened. However, since it announced its budget consultation in September 2017 for the coming financial year 2018/19, there have been two significant announcements made by the government. Firstly, the announcement that the government has accepted the Kent and Medway bid to become a Business Rate Retention pilot scheme in 2018/19.

The bid, working with the 12 district councils, Medway Council and the Kent Fire and Rescue Authority, will potentially deliver £5.6 million of additional resource for the county council for the coming financial year.

Secondly, the provisional local government settlement for 2018/19 announced by the Secretary of State in the House of Commons included an increase in the amount authorities can raise in council tax by 1% without a referendum. This is worth £6 million to KCC.

Leader of Kent County Council Paul Carter said, “My colleagues and I have an instinctive belief in lower, not higher, taxes but we have an equal concern and that is to protect and deliver effective and efficient public services.

“It is a concern that arises not just from our day-to-day roles here at County Hall but from decades of investment in schools, children’s and adults social care, libraries, youth services and transport. It is never easy to see council tax rise. However, our autumn consultation with the public has shown that the respondents will accept manageable council tax increases if these are used to protect front line services.

“Whilst the additional 1% will raise £6 million, it by no means compensates for the loss of grants but will go some way to protect frontline services.”

Council tax rise

KCC is therefore joining county councils across the country in proposing to raise council tax to protect and deliver the services it believes our community deserves. In 2018/19 it is proposed it will be raised by just under 5%, adding £52.30 to the annual charge of the average band C household in Kent.

Thanet council has also announced plans for a 3% rise in its share of the precept.

The budget proposals for 2018/19 include plans to continue the £8.7 million subsidy provided through the Young Persons Travel Pass, an additional £7.5 million capital investment in maintaining Kent’s roads including pothole repairs and a £16 million increase in the budget for services for Kent’s most vulnerable children and adults.

The budget will be finalised at the county council meeting on 20 February.