Thanet council’s cabinet member for finance, Cllr Rob Yates, has spoken of his anger at having to make more cuts to services amid falling funding from central government.
Speaking at a budget meeting last night (February 11) Cllr Yates said council tax is being increased by 2% – around £4.99 per year for a Band D property – but added that it was “not enough to fund local government.”
Thanet council receives 12p for every £1 of council tax paid by residents. The rest goes to Kent County Council, Kent’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Kent Fire and Rescue Service and town and parish authorities.
The £17million budget for 2021-22 is made up of Council Tax, income including fees and charges, retained Business Rates and Government funding (including Revenue Support Grant and New Homes Bonus).
This year’s budget includes the cutting of eight job roles at TDC as part of measures aimed at plugging a £840,000 deficit for the 2021-22 financial year. That shortfall had been predicted to be some £3million but a use of reserves has reduced this.
The government Revenue Support Grant has been shrinking year on year and was due to be zero from this April onwards. But a one-off payment of £100,000 has been made for 2021-22 due to the impact of the pandemic. Other grants related to covid have also been awarded to local government.
At last night’s meeting Cllr Yates outlined some of the work, and payments to residents and businesses, made during the pandemic including the support of vulnerable residents with food parcels and welfare checks, payment of £50m of grants to struggling businesses, supporting the NHS with covid test centres and vaccination centres, and continued delivery of front line services.
He added: “Given the large cuts to local government that the Conservative governments have imposed upon us over the last decade, we are having to increase council tax by 2%, which represents an average annual increase in Council Tax of £4.99 to a Band D household. “But this is not enough to fund local government and it makes me angry to say that we are once again having to make cuts within Thanet District Council. We as the Labour administration have worked hard to challenge the assumptions behind the cuts and reduce the impact on frontline services and redundancies.
“And we are proud to have found the money to allow at least a 1% pay award for our staff who have worked tirelessly over the last year, doing their jobs in exceptional circumstances.
“Local government has shone during the past year and we are once again being let down by the central government.”
Outlining growth that has been supported by TDC, Cllr Yates highlighted the community wealth building project aimed at encouraging large organisations in Thanet to spend their money locally where possible.
He added: “Within this we have signed up to a “Community Wealth Fund Alliance” that could bring £10 million pounds into 5 of our most ‘left behind’ wards if their initiative is successful.”
Cllr Yates says tourism remains ‘a priority’ with Thanet’s visitor economy – pre-covid- valued at £352 million, after welcoming 4.6 million visitors in 2019.
He also said income from the sale of the Dreamland estate will be used to pay off debt related to the compulsory purchase of the amusement park from its previous owners.
He added: “I believe that this council is achieving what we all set out to achieve in our four year plan, we are presenting a balanced budget that looks to support residents and businesses during this terrible pandemic and we will continue to work hand in hand with the residents of Thanet.”
However, Cllr Yates said the budget for 2022-2023 “is looking even more difficult” due to a lack of central government funding and more cut backs were likely.
.The budget received 45 votes in favour with abstentions from the three Green Party representatives in protest that “not enough” consideration had been given to climate emergency issues.
Cllr Mike Garner said: “Tackling climate emergency should be considered in everything we do and every pound we spend.”
Cllr Garner said planning enforcement should be boosted with funds to make sure developments followed environmental measures. He suggested this should be prioritised above schemes such as spending on Jet Ski berths.
Council tax rise
A rise in council tax of £4.99 – Band D – per year for Thanet District Council’s element of Council Tax equating to a weekly increase of around 10p.
There are expected to be shortfalls in the collection of council tax and business rates due to increased unemployment from an economic downturn (resulting in more Council Tax Support (CTS) claimants and non-payment by those not in receipt of CTS).
Business Rates income could similarly be hit by business failures from an economic downturn with a non payment estimate of £600k. There is also the potential cliff-edge of Business Rates relief for small businesses and those in retail, leisure and hospitality, which has applied for this year but will end in 2021-22, with those businesses expected to start paying rates again
Income from fees, including parking, are also expected to be hit as Covid restrictions continue. This includes Dreamland car park, part of the Dreamland estate sale to amusement park operator SHL, resulting in a forecast loss of £150k income for the year. The income from that sale will settle a debt to the previous amusement park owners accumalated due to the council’s compulsory purchase of the site served in 2011.
Your Leisure – The council’s leisure trust, Your Leisure, is facing a substantial shortfall in its income as a result of Covid, as are all leisure trusts. The council has paid its management fee for the year up front and has paid an additional £160k to the trust.
It has also been agreed to loan Your Leisure between £700k-£1.5m; provide additional funding of £230k plus VAT to the Winter Gardens to ensure that it can reopen and operate from October 2021 by being able to replace and relocate the boilers;
There will be reduced spending and bolstering council reserves will be delayed until 2022-23 to help meet the financial gap.
Council staff also face a ‘restrained’ cost of living pay award in 2021-22 “in order to protect services and minimise staffing reductions.” Up to eight job losses have been announced.
A 1% increase in pay will be built into the budget, along with the cost of paying the National Living Wage and increments.
Social rents have been set based on government rent guidance. Affordable Rents are linked to local market rents and to the Local Housing Allowance for the area. Rents are applied to individual properties at the lower of either 80% of the local market rent or the Local Housing Allowance.
Based on the proposed increase across the whole stock the average rent is £84.94, this is an average increase of £1.89p per property per week
Tenant service charge increases continue to be capped at £3 a week.
Planned capital projects include:
Jet-Ski Berths at Ramsgate Marina.
Ramsgate Port – Berth 1 Refurbishment
Thanet District LED Lighting – convert council owned street/open spaces lighting to LED (also replacing lamp columns where necessary).
Replacement Crematorium Chapel Roof to make the roof watertight and reduce the need for repairs.
Royal Harbour Multi-Storey Car Park Lift Replacement.
Government funding includes:
A further tranche of emergency Covid funding in 2021-22 of £1.016m.
A promise of further support for quarter one of 2021-22 for losses in sales, fees and charges due to Covid.
A Local Income Tax Guarantee scheme to assist with irrecoverable losses of Council Tax and Business Rates in 2020-21, value currently unknown.
A Local Council Tax Support grant to assist with additional costs of Council Tax Support, worth approximately £300k in 2021-22.
Revenue Support Grant of £100k rolled over for one more year to 2021-22.
A Lower Tier Services grant, probably one-off, worth £215k in 2021-22.
Consideration of using the Minor Works team to generate income from selling handyperson services.
A review of printing services income and expenditure including scope to in-source more printing.
Growth in income generated from fees and charges.
Investigation of more shared services including leadership teams.
Expand the CCTV service to sell to other external organisations.
Increase the use of direct debits to improve income collection across all chargeable services.
Additional job roles
An Education Enforcement Officer who is engaging with residents to try and reduce the amount of waste, fly tipping, litter and dog fouling.
A Climate Change Officer who is coordinating the authority’s response to the climate emergency in relation to Trees & Biodiversity, Waste and Recycling and Decarbonisation.
A Home Energy Officer who is helping residents with low incomes to get support for home energy heating and insulation.
Hiring in process for 5 full time Environmental Operatives who will focus on open spaces and street cleansing.