Unexpected increase in government funding plugs predicted shortfall in Thanet council’s 2022/23 budget

Thanet council

Thanet council Cabinet members will discuss budget proposals for 2022/23 which includes deleting the deputy chief executive post -vacant since former deputy Tim Willis departed the authority last October with £280,000 severance pay – and one compulsory redundancy from the Kent Innovation Centre.

An increase of government funding for the year means there is no longer a budget deficit of £691,000 which had been predicted in November.

Net service spending is increasing by £1.182m to £17.902m, which is a 7% increase on the £16.7m budget last year. This has been partly due to an unexpected increase in Government funding, including a £525k New Homes Bonus allocation and £325k from a new Services Grant.

The budget funds all services the council provides to residents, communities and businesses throughout the year.

The latest published report is part of the council’s annual budget setting process and follows Cabinet approval of the Budget Strategy report on Thursday, November 18. The report covers next year’s budget and the Medium Term Financial Strategy 2022-26. It includes more resources for local services, a review of the council’s reserves and the proposed increase in council tax for next year. It also highlights the savings made in order to protect key services.

Savings and income

Despite the increase in funding, savings have still been needed to balance the budget.

These include the compulsory redundancy, deleting several vacant posts and service restructures.

There will also be additional income by increasing the Thanet council element of residents’ Council Tax – equivalent to £4.99 per year on a Band D property. And a rise in fees and charges of 3% where regulations allow.

A suggestion has also been made to use the council’s Minor Works team to generate income from selling handyperson services.

Extra costs and surging homelessness

Costs in the coming financial year include £360k for two additional waste collection rounds. This is currently in operation during 2021-22, but staffed using agency workers and reported as an overspend. The additional rounds are needed as more waste is being generated as a result of people working from and spending more time at home.

There is also an anticipated rise in temporary accommodation costs of some £400k.

A report to Cabinet members says: “Homelessness has grown as a challenge for many local authorities over the last year, Thanet included. There are additional pressures on Housing Services as the gap between supply and demand increases and previously plans have been developed to ensure that this pressure is minimised.

“The council has reviewed and is delivering its homelessness strategy action plan, is regularly monitoring the levels of homelessness and has commissioned new services to address the increasing need for support. This work will continue. The council has also successfully bid for new government funding to support homelessness services locally.

“However, the council is seeing another surge of homelessness across the district as a result of Covid and in addition the eviction ban that came to an end on 1 June has added additional service and financial pressures.”

A further £160k will be used to once again help fund Your Leisure – which runs Margate Winter Gardens, Theatre Royal and leisure centres – as it continues to struggle from the effects of the pandemic.

Bookings are scheduled to pause at both Margate entertainment venues, with operator Your Leisure’s annual rolling lease at Theatre Royal ceasing on 28 April 2022 and a halt in Winter Gardens bookings from August 14, 2022, although Your Leisure retains its lease which runs until 2024.

The report says challenging times still lie ahead, especially due to the renewed concerns and impacts of COVID-19.

Reserves and staff pay

The council also plans to replenish reserves by making a £180k contribution for 2022-23. Reserves refer to money the council holds back to fund specific projects or for emergencies.

A 2% pay award increase for council staff has been built into the budget, which factors in a requirement to increase wages for staff on the council’s lowest grades. This also includes a 6.6% increase to honour the National Living Wage requirements set out by the Government.

Cllr David Saunders, Cabinet Member for Finance at Thanet District Council, said: “These reports illustrate the difficulty that we have when planning our finances against changing scenarios. Just a few months back we were forecasting a significant budget gap, but with a planned and cautious approach, combined with an efficient savings plan, we have been able to balance our budget.

“Despite what may seem like a lengthy and complicated process comprising several reports, this level of planning is of critical importance. It’s how we continue to deliver the services that matter to people and protect and support our most vulnerable residents. Planning our finances in this way means we are on the right track for balancing our budget in the coming years.

“We understand that some of the tough decisions we have made come at a time when many residents and local businesses have been impacted significantly by the pandemic and support is available for the hardest hit.”

If approved by Cabinet, the report goes to the Overview and Scrutiny Panel the following week and then back to Cabinet the week after (if the Panel makes any recommendations) before going to Full Council for approval in February.

The money the council uses to fund public services is made up of Council Tax receipts, income generation including from fees and charges, retained Business Rates and any Government funding.

Thanet council receives just 12p in every £1 of Council Tax. The remainder goes to Kent County Council; Kent Police and Crime Commissioner; Kent Fire and Rescue Service and Town/Parish councils.

The Cabinet meeting takes place on January 13 at 7pm. The meeting will be live-streamed.