Kent County Council prepares to discuss emergency budget plans

KCC County Hall

By Local Democracy Reporter Ciaran Duggan

An emergency budget has been put forward by Kent County Council (KCC) due to the impact of the Covid crisis.

The £1 billion spending budget is being reviewed due to increased council costs and loss of key income sources, such as business rates, at County Hall.

Around £12 million of “savings” will be delivered, including a reduction in the amount paid to councillors for their grants.

KCC’s full council will discuss the economic situation during a virtual public meeting next week.

A KCC report published to the 81 members states: “This amendment to the budget is necessary as a result of the unprecedented changes to the council’s revenue spending plans and income as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent economic fallout.”

An “informal” meeting has been held between councillors in advance of the council session.

Originally, a shortfall of £50m was predicted in the county council’s £116 million Covid budget, such as bulk purchases of personal protective equipment (PPE), but much was recovered through government cash aid. But a funding gap remains and it is unclear if service cuts could be on the cards. Council tax could also rise.

The dossier published jointly by KCC leader Roger Gough (Con) and KCC deputy leader Peter Oakford (Con) expands on this.

It states: “The future is highly uncertain. The combination of higher spending and lower income we potentially face could present a much greater threat to the council’s financial viability than the challenge we have faced over the last 10 years through austerity.”

However, the two Conservative elected members reiterate that a ‘bankruptcy’ Section 114 notice is unlikely at this stage, with council reserves of just under £40m deemed adequate. This action has not been ruled out in the future.

The KCC report adds: “The approval of an amended balanced budget would mean that there is no immediate risk of a requirement to consider a Section 114 notice at this stage although this needs to be kept under constant review as plans for 2021-22 and later years are developed.”

County councillors will convene in seven days’ time to discuss the emergency budget proposal at the crunch virtual meeting from 10am.