Kent County Council cabinet approves ‘difficult’ £1.5bn budget

Council leader Roger Gough

By Local Democracy reporter Ciaran Duggan

Kent County Council’s £1.5bn draft budget for the next financial year has been widely supported by County Hall’s cabinet.

Around £107m of spending demands have been forecast over the 12-month period from April 2020 to March 2021, which will require £34m of savings to be made.

It was described as a “difficult budget” by KCC’s cabinet member for finance, Peter Oakford (Con), earlier today, who said the county council faces a “debt mountain” of £1bn.

KCC’s leader, Cllr Roger Gough (Con), told his nine cabinet colleagues that the county council requires more Government aid to finance key services, particularly £85m of highways improvements over the next three years.

Speaking during a cabinet meeting at Maidstone County Hall, he added: “If we do not get government support we will face a difficult choice between a scale of borrowing which is unsustainable or an unacceptable deterioration our highways, particularly rural roads.”

Cllr Gough’s comments come despite a Government pledge to provide an extra £18.9m to KCC for the next financial year- marking the highest grant increase in more than a decade.

KCC’s other key spending areas include £543m towards adults and older people’s services, around 40% of the total budget, while children’s social care will receive a £187m boost. Borrowing is likely to continue at £118m.

Around £41m will be invested into highways over the next financial year while school services will be boosted from an extra £20.6m investment. A total of £86.3m is expected to be funded towards transport services.

A gap of £1.9m was originally forecast in the budget, but this has been filled from an extra £2m of council tax forecast for KCC’s 12 districts. The predicted income has risen from around £2.5m to £4.5m.

The draft budget includes the proposed 1.995% council tax increase for 2020/21 while a further 1.995% rise has been proposed through the social care levy, taking the total levy to 8.78% of the county council’s tax share.

Cllr Oakford also said that national living wage increases for employees working within KCC’s commissioned services will add more financial pressure onto the council – costing an extra £2.7m.

KCC’s deputy leader added: “We have sufficient reserves, but not a lot of them. We are keeping our head above the water.”

Minor budgetary changes are expected before the final version is presented to full council in three weeks time, including revised figures for council tax income, business rate growth and potential Government grant pledges.

A final decision on KCC’s budget will be made by its 81 members at Maidstone County Hall on Thursday, February 13.

Further announcements on government grants will be made in Chancellor Sajid Javid’s budget statement on March 11, which was postponed from the original date of November 6 due to December’s General Election.