New date set for Thanet council budget to be agreed

The challenges of local government budgets

Thanet council’s budget for 2019-20 is due to go back before councillors for agreement on February 28 following its postponement on February 7.

The budget report was initially withdrawn following discussions between Thanet council leader Bob Bayford and Secretary of State for Transport Chris Grayling. The aim was to wait for discussion between Seaborne Freight, Thanet council, Ostend and the DfT over a proposed Ramsgate/Ostend ferry route and its role in post-Brexit resilience to conclude.

The government had agreed a £13.8 million contract with Seaborne to provide additional ferry capacity following the UK’s exit from the European Union on March 29. The contract was axed a little over 24 hours after the Thanet budget decision was postponed.

The council must plug a £1.8million shortfall or be at risk of a “significant risk of overspending the proposed budget.”

The cuts come amid falling income from Government. The Revenue Support Grant to Thanet from central government is estimated to be £97,000 for the 2019-20 financial year. In 2018-19 it was £809,000 and in 2017-18 the grant stood at £1.446m. This is compared to £6.636m in 2013-14.

There will be no central government grant from 2020-21.

Ramsgate Port

Photo John Horton

Councillors are expected to agree to ‘net off’ £500,000 funding to keep Ramsgate port in readiness for a ferry operation and axe a further £130,000, totalling £630,000 (or £730,000 in a full year) from port spending.

The report formerly presented to councillors said: “in the absence of a ferry operation, the port will undertake significant cost reductions to start to reduce its budgeted deficit.”

It has not been detailed how the  additional £130,000 will be saved.

Ramsgate Port has racked up a deficit of more than £20million since 2010. Losses include £5million in live export compensation paid after the High Court overruled a live export ban from the port put in place by the then-Labour led council and £3.4million for bankrupt TransEuropa Ferries unpaid fees and charges.

Council tax

Thanet needs a budget amount of £16.6 million for the coming year. Measures to raise funds include the 2.99% council tax rise, which will raise £ 43,763.27.

The hike will mean a Band D home will pay £233.19 for Thanet council’s share of the annual council tax, an increase of around £6.75.

Thanet District Council receives just 13p in every £1 of council tax. The remainder goes to: Kent County Council, Kent Police, Kent Police and Crime Commissioner, Kent Fire and Rescue Service and Town/Parish Councils.

Assets

Public toilets under review

Funds will also be raised through fees and charges, which were agreed in November, such as costs for parking, burials and waste disposal.

There will also be a continued sell-off of council assets, currently estimated to be worth some £244 million.

This includes the sell-off or community transfer of currently closed public toilets, pavilions and some land. A further phase of review for Thanet’s public toilets is still being carried out.

A whopping £500,000 will be removed from 2019-20 plans for Ramsgate Port along with a further £130,000 savings, totalling £630,000 (or £730,000 in a full year) expected to be agreed.

There will also be ‘efficiencies’ made within East Kent Housing which is responsible for local authority homes in Thanet, Shepway, Dover and Canterbury.

Council office spend

Thanet council 

Some £3million is earmarked for either refurbishment of Thanet council’s offices in Cecil Square or possibly the purchase of a new site – possibly at the former Christ Church University campus in Broadstairs. It is understood TDC would look to sell the Cecil Square building to recoup funds.

There are also plans for spending which include £1.2million on Ramsgate Port berths 4-5 so that Brett Aggregates, which carries out concrete batching at the site, can use bigger vessels.

Thanet Parkway Station

Thanet Parkway Station

The council will also agree to foot £2 million of the bill for the proposed parkway station at Cliffsend.

This funding is earmarked for 2020/21. Council leader, Conservative Bob Bayford, said: “There are anticipated costs (to Kent County Council) of £26 million and they are still looking for contributions.

“KCC and our council believe it is strategically really important to have that station and it is quite reasonable (for TDC) to make a contribution to the project.”

Funding cuts

New Homes Bonus cuts

The New Homes Bonus allocation to Thanet has  been slashed  to £600,000 – a whopping £400,000 lower than the 2018-19 allocation.

A Kent and Medway bid to be a pilot for 75% business rates retention in 2019-20 failed meaning the council will be part of a Kent pool receiving 50% business rates retention.

There has also been a cut of £78,000 in the allocation from the Government towards housing benefit administration.

The council will receive a one-off payment of £76,000 in redistributed business rates.

Rents

Thanet council will also set aside £200,000 to cover bad debts which are forecast to grow due to increased rent arrears and the effects of Universal Credit.

Social and affordable rents will be decreased by 1% in line with the government rent guidance. The average rent is currently £80.36, with an average decrease of 77p per property.

Spending on new build properties or the buying of properties has a reserve of £5.37m.

The council’s reserve fund stands at £2m but is estimated that this may be spent during 2022-23, if the future funding gap is not addressed.