By Local Democracy Reporter Ciaran Duggan
Fearful county councillors have warned that “tough” decisions lie ahead to fill a budget gap of up to £200million next year.
Kent County Council’s (KCC) elected members met with more than 60 Conservatives overwhelmingly voting in favour of an emergency budget for the remainder of this financial year.
It means £12.8m of “savings” will be delivered over the next six months, including reductions to councillor grants and allowances. This will be used to help cover a reduced financial hole of £23m from Covid costs and revenue losses.
Opposition parties raised objections as County Hall’s Liberal Democrats voted against the revised budget while Labour’s five members abstained.
However, cross party consensus was reached over the growing challenges faced by the county council next year as KCC chiefs forecast that between £150m and £200m of “spending reductions” and “savings” will be required.
This would amount to around 15% of County Hall’s £1bn spending budget.
KCC leader Roger Gough (Con), who took on his post last October, said: “The challenge is big but we have some form in rising to it.”
The county council has successfully lobbied for £116m of grant funding from Boris Johnson’s Government to help cover the budget costs this year, with KCC executives pledging to “press” for more support for 2021.
KCC deputy leader Cllr Peter Oakford (Con), who is also County Hall’s finance cabinet member, warned that “tough policy decisions” lie ahead and said: “The real challenge for us is going to be next year and we recognise that.”
During today’s virtual public meeting, he added: “We will continue to lobby Government and our MPs to make it clear we need extra funds.”
KCC’s main opposition leader, Cllr Rob Bird (Lib Dem), said: “The £150m to £200m is an eye-watering prospect and way in excess of cuts which were required during any of the past 10 years of austerity.
“It will worry many Kent residents who rely on council services and clearly worry the KCC staff.”
Staff at KCC have cited risks around further spending on adult social care services, such as care homes, alongside school support and highway repairs.
Cranbrook county councillor Sean Holden (Con) said he looked at next year with “some trepidation” and said: “We have to see how that is going to happen, but this is a national emergency.”
He added: “There is no magic bullet from the Government to stop KCC being affected by it one way or another.”
KCC Green Party leader Martin Whybrow also raised concerns. He said: “I think today is the start of a much bigger and painful conversation after a decade of austerity.”
The Folkestone member added: “It would be wonderful to think central Government has woken up to the true value of local government as a result of the last six months, but I don’t think anyone is holding their breath.”