By Local Democracy Reporter Ciaran Duggan
Hundreds of Kent residents have had their say about next year’s potential council spending cuts amid Covid.
Nearly 3,000 people have responded to a consultation about the financial blackhole of up to £143million faced by Kent County Council (KCC) from April 2021 to April 2022.
The gap represents a quarter of the total savings made by County Hall during the austerity years of Prime Ministers David Cameron and Theresa May from 2010 to 2020.
Cllr Peter Oakford (Con), who is KCC’s deputy leader and finance cabinet member, said: “We actually had a fabulous response to the consultation and have a much clearer picture of how residents are thinking.”
Opposition councillors have said the results should be taken with “a pinch of salt” given that Kent’s 12 districts are made up of nearly 1.6 million residents.
Householders were asked what money should be saved in KCC’s budget next year as part of a consultation which ran from October 14 to November 24.
An online presentation analysing the feedback was provided to KCC’s Conservative cabinet yesterday.
The councillors were told that 65% of the 2,985 respondents, more than 80% of whom are classed as Kent residents, would be “uncomfortable” with any cuts to adult and children’s social care services.
Meanwhile, more than 60% of people say they remain “comfortable” or “partly comfortable” with reduced spending on community services, such as libraries and local transport.
Last month, backbench Tory councillors said there would be “no sacred cows” in the budget and did not rule out any potential cuts to KCC’s 99 libraries.
About 51% of respondents gave “modest” support to council tax increases while 44% disagreed with any rises. The remaining 5% were undecided.
But 78% of people were in favour of potential cuts to the large portfolio of buildings owned by County Hall as KCC seeks to deliver more online services.
KCC leader Cllr Roger Gough (Con), of Sevenoaks North and Darent Valley, said: “It is incredibly heartening to see the scale of response and I think it is important we take some clear messages from this.”
At cabinet, Cllr Oakford, of Tunbridge Wells North, later said: “We can now feed this information into the work we are doing about the budget.”
However, KCC Labour group leader Dara Farrell said after the meeting that the results reflected a “sweeping generalisation” of county opinion. The Ashford South member added: “The council has asked people to make a big choice.”
Next year’s draft budget will be published on January 5 which will be closely scrutinised by all 81 county councillors ahead of a decisive vote on February 11.