A £2.8 million funding gap in Thanet council’s budget has resulted in “painful decisions” including the axing of £350,000 for Your Leisure and the Margate Winter Gardens and £64,000 for event grants. Floral grants have also suffered a £15,000 cut.
The cuts are part of the 2018/19 budget for Thanet council which was agreed by members of all parties except Labour and 2 Independents – who were absent for the vote – last night (February 8).
Margate Central councillor Iris Johnston slammed the cuts, saying her ward was “getting a kicking,” with the omission of funding for work at properties in Church Fields and Meeting Court and the grant stripping from the Winter Gardens.
She said: “The removal of £64,000 from the events budget, £15,000 from the flowers budget and £350,000 from the Winter Gardens – all these are contained in one small ward. Tourism is worth something like £4million and this (Margate Central) is a ward that depends on tourism.”
Ramsgate councillor Peter Campbell also voted against the budget proposals saying Thanet council had “kept for themselves” money that parish and town councils relied on – including £300,000 for Ramsgate.
The proposals, which were passed by an overwhelming majority, included the 2.99% rise in Thanet council’s share of council tax – equating to a rise of £6.57 a year for a Band D property. The rise is estimated to be around a tenth of the overall council tax hike for Thanet with higher charges also being made for the county council, police and fire services share of the precept.
Council leader Chris Wells said tough decisions had to be made in the face of falling funding from central government.
He said: “In 2012 we had a £22 million revenue budget and £11 million came from central government. For 2019 there will be a £16.5 million revenue budget and we will have to raise it all ocally. Something has to give. Being in that position we have to make painful decisions. We had already got to the stage where there had been a number of staff redundancies and we still had a gap to close.”
Referring to serious financial situations at other UK councils, including Northamptonshire and Haringey, Cllr Wells added: “Everybody in local government is struggling.”
Cuts to funding
Revenue Support Grant (RSG) from central government has fallen to £809,000 for 2018-19 compared to £1.446m for 2017-18.
The grant has been slashed repeatedly in the last few years.
For 2013/14 the grant was £6.636m. in 2014/15 it fell to £5.131m and for 2015-16 this was reduced to £3.630m.
In 2016-17 the grant was £2.645m but this is expected to go down to just £98,000 in 2019-20 and it is predicted there will be no central government grant from 2020-21.
The loss of funding means local authorities have to look at other ways of raising funds through fees and charges, asset sales and even schemes like the new Thanet lottery.
A hike in some fees and charges, such as parking costs and the removal of free Saturday parking at Royal Harbour car park (Leopold Street), was passed by councillors in December and is expected to bring in an additional £390,000 for the authority.
Further income is expected from business rates. The council is currently part of the Kent wide pool for business rates. The pool consists of twelve Kent local authorities comprising Kent County Council, Kent Fire and Rescue and ten borough and district councils.
By pooling, any levy payments that would have been made to Central Government in relation to business rate growth can be saved and distributed to the members of the pool. All Kent authorities jointly signed up to apply to the Government to be a pilot for 100% business rates retention during the next financial year.
Some £78,000 has also been saved through “organisational efficiencies.”
The budget report to councillors said: “A significant amount of work has gone into balancing the council’s budget for 2018-19. The council’s previous MTFS (medium term financial strategy) forecast that a further £1.9m in savings would be required (over 2017-18) but there have been additional in-year growth pressures.
“It is vital that all fees and charges, savings and efficiencies proposals are monitored and acted on during 2018-19 along with strict control over spending. Cabinet will receive regular budget monitoring reports throughout the course of the year.”