Thanet District Council has unanimously approved the budget for the financial year 2022-23 at a Full Council meeting held last night (February 10).
But two proposed amendments to use the £549k New Homes Bonus funding to repair the seafront lifts at Viking Bay and Ramsgate’s East Cliff and to use the same pot to build two or three properties for those facing homelessness fell.
The money is allocated to pay off debt was Labour councillors put forward alternative uses.
Cllr Steve Albon proposed £230,000 – the figure previously quoted for repairs – should be allocated to getting the lifts back into use.
He said: “We need to look at how out disabled residents can access our beaches.”
The amendment was also supported by Green councillors but fell by 30 votes against and 19 in favour.
Thanet council leader Ash Ashbee revealed that £100,000 ‘donated’ to the authority by Southern Water following a wastewater release that closed isle beaches in June, would be used to develop plans for town councils in Ramsgate and Broadstairs to take on the lifts.
She said talks had taken place with Broadstairs town council, and the offer was there for Ramsgate town council, about taking on the lifts.
She added that there could be a way that the lifts “pay for themselves” with “a bit of imagination.”
The second amendment was put forward by Cllr Helen Whitehead proposing the funding was used for more in-house temporary accommodation.
She said: “We currently have 160 households in temporary accommodation. 82 of those households are placed out of area. Evictions are increasing month on month, and Margate tops the whole of the country for property price inflation over the last decade. “The lowest private rents for three bed properties in Margate would now cost over 80% of the income of our poorest residents.
“We are not approaching a crisis; we are already in one. It has been argued that using the New Homes Bonus to hold back and pay down debt is the fiscally responsible thing to do. But as a council, we do not routinely hold debts on over 20% interest; but what is being proposed within this budget will equate to that level, at least. Property values in Margate alone rose by 14.4% last year; they are predicted to rise again to that level again over the coming year.”
Urging councillors to put aside political motivations and vote in favour of the amendment, she added: “ The argument that this is about being fiscally responsible or prudent simply does not hold water. If we allocate all of the New Homes Bonus to acquiring in house temporary accommodation, delaying purchases by one year increases the costs of purchase by an estimated 15% according to predictions; which means that delaying the purchase of property now costs us an additional £82,350 to buy equivalent property in a year’s time.
“This is my last chance to make it clear what a difference you can potentially make tonight. Families safe and not forced away for every year from this point onwards. Education not disrupted; jobs not lost. £82,350 saved for the council, in one decision; ongoing costs saved thereafter, every year. This is fiscally and socially responsible, and I believe the only humane response to the situation we find ourselves in.”
Backing the proposal councillors Raushan Ara, Becky Wing and Tricia Austin all spoke of people in their wards who are homeless and in need of help.
Cllr Ash Ashbee said residents in the villages also faced homelessness but the funding was not enough and would be lost in admin costs.
Cabinet member for finance Cllr David Saunders said the council plan was to buy larger sites to create more than one home – citing the project at Foy House as an example.
He said if suitable properties were found Thanet council would “find the funds necessary.”
The amendment fell with 20 voting in favour but 29 voting against.
The budget and the Medium Term Financial Strategy 2022-26 includes resources for local services, a review of the council’s reserves and an increase in the Thanet council element of council tax for next year. It also highlights the savings made in order to protect key services.
Cllr Saunders said: “We have approved a budget that fulfils the council’s statutory duty to deliver a balanced budget.
“It is now well versed that 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.
“This has been supported in-part by additional Government funding. Much of this funding is temporary however, and we will continue to give careful consideration to its use, allocating these resources in the most appropriate and prudent way possible.
“Despite the additional funding we have received it has been necessary to find budget savings. One of our priorities throughout the budget setting process has been to protect jobs as much as possible, and a key component of our budget strategy has been to look for savings from vacant posts. I am pleased to present savings of £250,000 from this review.
“In addition to this, we have also found almost another £400,000 from further savings, efficiencies and income generation opportunities. In addition, the agreed increase in council tax, at £5 per Band D equivalent property, represents an increase of less than 10p a week for each household.
“We understand that this increase will come at a time when many residents and local businesses have been impacted significantly by the pandemic, however the budget approved (last night) will ensure that we are able to continue to deliver vital public services and support to our most vulnerable residents, from a solid financial footing.”
The budget includes a council tax rise of the Thanet council element equivalent to £4.99 per year on a Band D property. 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.