By Local Democracy Reporter Ciaran Duggan
Kent County Council’s (KCC) leader has warned about the “scarring” effect the impact of coronavirus will have on the county’s economy and local government.
Higher taxes and inflation will likely be imposed across the country in the “coming years” as the government tries to reduce the deficit and recover its national finances, Cllr Roger Gough (Con) and his cabinet were told in a virtual meeting yesterday.
Cash for local government is expected to remain “constrained” while Whitehall bosses are pushing to “integrate” council services as part of greater interventions into public policy.
KCC’s director of strategy, David Whittle, told the cabinet: “Whilst speculation is always a dangerous game in planning…there is an emerging consensus, becoming clearer, what type of operating environment local government might face.”
The public sector, including KCC, Medway Council and the 12 district authorities, will be expected to play a key role in revitalising the UK economy through the forecast imminent recession.
Challenges they will face include “balancing” their budgets, protecting frontline services and the long-term recovery of the economy.
Protecting vulnerable people, including domestic abuse victims and disabled residents, will remain a key KCC priority alongside supporting the local economy.
KCC’s leader said yesterday: “The scarring effects of Covid-19 on our economy, finances, services and organisational structures will be very significant.”
He added: “This changed operating environment will prove extremely challenging and will require changes to the KCC operating model.
“What kind of council we want to be in the future, what our priorities are and how we deliver our services and work with partners are all fundamental questions that only elected members can decide.”
KCC councillors will be expected to play a “stronger role” in policy development, with a transition roadmap laid out to a revised five-year plan by December 2021.
But opposition members have called for greater clarity on the role of councillors over the coming months.
KCC’s main opposition leader, Cllr Rob Bird (Lib Dem), said: “It’s not clear to me yet how KCC are going to involve councillors in determining, particularly the interim plan, which is going to be vital for the economy and social structures we have across the county.”
Margate county councillor Barry Lewis (Lab) said: “I’m very disappointed with the meeting because they seemed to be talking about a five-year plan when they haven’t even got a five day plan implemented.”
But, Cllr Gough said: “Recovery will not be a neat and linear process but it does present an opportunity to bring forward innovation and new thinking to many of the challenges we collectively face as a county and county council.”