Kent County Council faces a budget deficit of up to £143million for 2021-22 and is asking residents for their views on where spending should go.
People have just under two weeks – until November 24 – to outline their priorities for KCC to consider as it prepares its budget for the next financial year.
Although it has managed to balance the books for the current financial year, KCC is facing a deficit of between £62 million and £143million for 2021-22, with the next government settlement to local authorities as yet unknown.
Over the past few weeks, officers and Members have been considering how they might tackle the toughest financial challenge KCC has faced for many years – greater even than any it faced during 10 years of austerity.
No decisions have been made and KCC is keen to consider the views of residents before making them. It is therefore encouraging as many people and organisations as possible to take part in its budget consultation, where they can express their views on how the council might reduce its spending and whether they are happy to accept a modest rise in council tax in order to keep any reductions to a minimum.
Peter Oakford, KCC’s Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Finance, said: “Over the past 10 years, despite cuts in government funding and an increased demand for some of our services, we have managed to make savings of more than £710million.
“But we now face an even bigger financial challenge. We are continuing to lobby the government for more funding, but we do not yet know how much we will receive and we have to make plans now to balance next year’s budget.
“We have to consider making some difficult decisions about where to reduce our spending. We are asking the public for their opinions so we can take those into account in drafting our next budget.”
The council is legally required to balance its spending with what it receives from council tax, business rates, government grants and other income. Coping with the demands of Covid-19 has required a huge increase in spending and has come at the same time as reductions in its income from council tax and business rates.
Council tax and business rates account for almost half of the total funding KCC receives for its annual spending and both have been impacted by the Covid pandemic.
The government has traditionally set a maximum limit for council tax increases without holding a referendum and assumes KCC will increase it by that amount. Last year this limit was 2% and the government has not yet confirmed what this limit will be for next year.
An increase of just under 2% would add £24 per year (or 46 pence per week) to the KCC element of the bill for a typical band C property and take the total KCC element of council tax to £1,225.12 (or £23.56 per week). Such an increase would raise £14.4million towards the council’s rising costs.
At the moment, the government has not yet confirmed whether councils will be able to continue to levy an additional charge for adult social care costs. A 2% increase would raise a further £14.4million to be spent on adult social care services and increase the KCC element for a band C property by a further £24 (or 46 pence per week). This would make the final estimated band C bill, after the social care levy, to be £1,249.12.
Pushed to the brink
County Councillor Karen Constantine, who is one of the representatives for Ramsgate, said: “Covid and Brexit have pushed KCC to the brink. Early next year we will have to find savings of between £62million and £143million. But even before this crisis the UK Government had systematically hacked away at local Government funding.
“This has undoubtedly impacted our poorer communities. In Ramsgate we have already seen the deepest cuts to library services, we have no elderly persons’ wardens and frankly we struggle to get KCC to listen to our needs. We were the last area in Kent to get new low energy street lighting installed and only then after a battle with them. KCC could have protected our vital Stroke service at QEQM but they failed. We have already had to absorb the brunt of falling Government funding.
“KCC is not currently meeting our needs adequately and now we are going to be asked to pay more for less. KCC needs to look more closely at the disadvantaged areas across Kent and aim to level up. Poor communities like ours shouldn’t be made poorer.
“The Tories have made it clear that ‘everything’ is on the table. That means any and all of the services that Thanet residents use can be cut. I will do all that I can to protect these vital services that people rely on and to protect jobs.”
Labour’s county councillor for Margate, Barry Lewis, added: “After 10 years of Conservative cuts to local councils, the Conservative administration in Kent is planning even more drastic cuts whilst confirming wasted money on white elephant scheme Thanet Parkway.
“Thanet residents are going to see their council tax bill go up by about £50 per year while being provided with ess services. The Labour group at KCC will vote against any cuts to frontline services such as libraries and Sure Start centres.”
Make your views known
The consultation runs until November 24 and the document and questionnaire can be found here: www.kent.gov.uk/budget.
If you are unable to take part online, a hard copy of the consultation document and questionnaire can be requested via the Alternative Formats team: email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 03000 421553. This number goes to an answering machine which is monitored during office hours.
Consultation responses will be considered by Members at their Cabinet Committee meetings taking place throughout January before the budget is debated and approved at the full county council meeting in February.