By Local Democracy Reporter Ciaran Duggan
A 4.99% rise in council tax from April has been proposed by Kent County Council (KCC).
Maidstone County Hall is planning its budget for the next financial year and faces “unprecedented” pressures caused by the coronavirus crisis.
To help balance the budget, the county’s 1.58 million residents could be asked to fork out £37million to prevent cuts to frontline services, notably social care.
It means that contentious private talks about chopping some of the county’s 99 libraries and dozens of children centres have been “taken off the table”.
KCC’s 81 councillors will vote on the potential council tax rise in four weeks’ time.
KCC’s deputy leader Cllr Peter Oakford (Con), who is also the finance cabinet member, said it was with “great reluctance” that the tax bill would need to increase by the maximum amount of 5%.
He said: “That is always a difficult decision because we do understand the pressure that our residents are under at this moment.
“We understand that people are losing jobs and the economic challenges but we have to balance off whether we increase the council tax or cut services.”
It means the annual KCC council tax bill could increase by £60 for a band C home, rising from £1,200 to £1,260.
For Band D households, the growth equates to around £67.50. This does not include money paid to the police, parish, town, district and borough councils or the fire service.
However low-income households can claim discounts, such as 25% off the council tax bill for people living on their own.
Opposition groups say the proposed tax hike is “disappointing” and have called for more cash support from Boris Johnson’s Government.
KCC’s Green party leader, Cllr Martin Whybrow, said: “The 5% increase will be a blow to many struggling Kent households and we know that Covid has exacerbated inequality.”
KCC’s Labour group leader, Cllr Dara Farrell, added: “It will be unforgivable for the costs of Covid to be placed on the shoulders of Kentish taxpayers, while the government wastes billions on failed programmes such as test and trace.”
KCC’s Tory administration say they have “balanced the budget” for the next financial year, which was initially forecast to be up to £143m. This will be met through government grants, savings and council tax rises.
However, County Hall chiefs will remain “flexible” over any potential emergency budget changes caused by future Covid lockdowns, Brexit border disruption or increasing demand to provide help for asylum-seekers.
KCC’s leader Cllr Roger Gough (Con) described the council’s financial planning as “prudent” but warned that County Hall could not rely on more Whitehall aid.
He said: “There is a really difficult balance to strike. We realise the pressure that residents are under and these are very, very hard times.
“In many ways our leaning would be against this significantly. Any decision a council makes not to make the 5% increase will not be offset by any degree of compensatory financial support from Government.”
What does the money that goes to KCC pay for?
- 84 children’s centres and early years services
- Supporting 1,600 children in care and 1,700 care leavers
- Fostering, adoption and 10,000-plus social work cases
- Working with 583 schools on places, planning and access
- Special educational needs and disability including transport
- Apprenticeships, skills and career pathways for young people
- Public health and wellbeing services
- Sports, arts, culture and heritage
- Highways, waste management and concessionary travel
- Active travel, public rights of way and country parks
- 99 libraries, mobile libraries and archives
- Community safety, emergency planning and trading standards
- Registration and coroners’ services
- Economic development and strategic planning
- Support for 4,900 adults with learning disabilities
- 4,100 permanent residential care placements
- Support for 3,200 social care clients with mental health needs
- Support for 1,200 older people in nursing care homes
- 7,000 people receiving care and support at home
- Support for 5,300 adults with physical disability and sensory needs
- 2,400 people using day care services in their community
What happens next?
Kent’s county councillors will vote on the proposals during a virtual meeting of KCC’s full council on Thursday, February 11 from 9.30am.