Thanet council’s budget for 2019-20 has finally been agreed tonight (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The budget report was initially withdrawn following discussions between Thanet council leader Bob Bayford and Secretary of State for Transport Chris Grayling.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 but this was axed a little over 24 hours after the Thanet budget decision was postponed.
Thanet council has now been agreed that a Ramsgate ferry service is off the table with council leader Bob Bayford revealing a deal was supposed to have been signed the day after the original budget was postponed. This fell through when Irish shipping company Arklow was said to have withdrawn its backing. Arklow later revealed no contracts had been signed with Seaborne.
The council must plug a £1.8million shortfall or be at risk of a “significant risk of overspending the proposed budget.”
However, there was dissent with 20 councillors -including all Labour members- either rejecting or abstaining from the budget vote. It was carried with 27 votes in favour.
Councillors agreed to ditch £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.
It has not been detailed how the additional £130,000 will be saved. This was again queried by Labour’s Peter Campbell and Thanet Independent Councillors leader Stuart Piper who said members and the public were being “kept in the dark.”
Cabinet member for finance Cllr Ian Gregory said: “In the absence of a ferry operation, the port will undertake significant cost reductions to start to reduce its budgeted deficit.”
It was revealed that a feasibility study for the port – on how else it could be used- will be completed by the end of 2019.
International consultants Marine Development Limited have previously offered to carry out an appraisal of how a marina village could be created at Ramsgate Port and harbour.
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.
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.
The total rise for a band D home, inclusive of all authority precepts, will be an extra £96.48 per year.
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.
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
Some £3million is earmarked for either refurbishment of Thanet council’s offices in Cecil Square or the purchase of a new site – possibly at the former Christ Church University campus in Broadstairs. TDC would look to sell the Cecil Square building to recoup funds.
Cllr Bayford said if the option to refurbish went ahead the council would not retain the whole building as it was “too big.”
The £3million spend, the pledge to spend £2 million on Thanet Parkway Station and the asset sell-off was criticised by UKIP’s Derek Crowe-Brown.
Thanet Parkway Station
The council will 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 it was “reasonable” to contribute to Kent County Council’s £26 million project.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Council leader Bob Bayford said: “This budget is a tough one. Lots of tough decisions were needed and we have made them. We are required to have a balanced budget and this is balanced.”