Thanet’s Labour councillors say the will seek to amend the Conservative-led council’s 2022/23 budget proposals to include investment in Ramsgate and Broadstairs seaside lifts, additional resources to pursue the council’s climate change objectives and a new initiative to limit the need for people who find themselves homeless to be placed in expensive bed and breakfast accommodation.
The budget for 2022/23 is due to be discussed by Thanet council Cabinet members tonight (January 13) and includes proposals for 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.
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.
However, Thanet’s Labour Party say there needs to be more focus on getting the Ramsgate and Broadstairs lifts operational, a push on climate change policy and fresh initiatives to halt those becoming homeless from being accommodated in bed and breakfast.
Opposition leader Cllr Rick Everitt said: “This an unimaginative budget from the Tories which fails to use the available resources to the best effect. Our plans are fully funded from the financing already proposed and provide significant benefits, so we hope to persuade other parties to support them.
“The historic lift on Ramsgate’s Eastcliff has not operated since 2019 due to Covid, the theft of lead from the roof and structural problems, while Broadstairs opened last year but still needs further investment to secure its future. The public have shown they want both to be restored to full long-term operation and our proposal will ensure this happens, whereas the Tories have yet to commit the funds and there are doubts about their commitment to the Ramsgate one in particular.”
In August it was revealed the Edwardian seafront lift at Ramsgate’s East Cliff would remain shut “for the foreseeable future,” according to a report to Thanet council.
The Ramsgate lift and the Viking Bay lift in Broadstairs both had ‘permanently shut’ notices place on them on April 1 last year.
However, a public outcry followed, including the launching of a petition by resident Barry Stickings, whose son is blind , saying the decision should be reversed and the lifts repaired.
Six days later the signs were removed but the lifts remained out of action.
A pledge was made by Thanet council to investigate the costs and feasibility of reopening the lifts, which provide access to the beaches for many people with disabilities and people with prams and buggies. It was announced that surveys would be carried out on both lifts with a view to bringing them both back into operation.
Following works costing £17,500 the Viking Bay lift opened to the public on July 19 for the Summer season. However, the Ramsgate lift still has no reopening date earmarked.
The Labour members say they also want more climate action.
Shadow cabinet finance spokesperson Rob Yates, who moved the motion under which the council recognised the climate emergency in 2019, said: “When Labour ran the council we made sure it appointed a full-time climate change officer and a home energy officer.
“Together the climate officers have created a biodiversity strategy, installed new EV charging points, seen hundreds of trees planted with local community groups and helped hundreds of low-income resident’s access insulation grants, simultaneously improving local housing stock and reducing fuel poverty. However, council officers need our support to be able to move forward at pace.”
The issue of homelessness has also been raised by the group.
There is an anticipated rise in temporary accommodation costs for Thanet council 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.”
Last month Thanet was awarded Thanet £881,034 of government funding to tackle homelessness on the Isle in 2022/23.
The funding will be used for core homelessness prevention services.
Other projects include the Thanet shelter and the renovation of Foy House in Margate which will create eight self-contained 1 and 2 bedroom flats to provide temporary accommodation for people and families with urgent housing needs, who are being supported by the council.
Thanet Labour say they want to see an extension of in-house provision to further tackle the issue.
Cllr Helen Whitehead, deputy leader and shadow cabinet member for housing and homelessness, said: “The spiralling issue of homelessness is a national as well as a local problem. Thanks to our excellent officers, Thanet is an exemplar authority in tackling this, but the £20 cut in universal credit and return of no-fault evictions is leading to increased use of temporary accommodation, including outside the district. This is something we were determined to tackle as a Labour administration, and was why I fought as hard as I did to help bring about our first in-house, local temporary accommodation.
“Placement out of the area is incredibly difficult for people forced to use the service and also more expensive for residents generally. I believe that no one wants to see our residents disadvantaged in any way, so I very much hope there will be cross-party support for our proposal which will both reduce these costs and provide a better solution for those in temporary need.”
Thanet’s draft budget is due to be recommended to go to council at the cabinet meeting tonight. Opposition councillors may speak once at the meeting but cannot debate or move amendments. Labour’s shadow cabinet team will instead bring forward detailed proposals for cross-party consideration at the council’s overview and scrutiny meeting next Tuesday ( January 18).