Plans for a £1.2billion budget for 2022/23 have today been agreed by Kent County Council (KCC).
Proposals to balance the books as the county emerges from COVID, and ensure the vital needs of Kent communities are prioritised, were accepted by the full Council by 47 votes to 16.
Four councillors abstained at the meeting which was relocated from County Hall to the Kent Event Centre at Detling to allow Members to safely attend and socially distance. In line with current government rules, councillors must be physically present to vote, move or amend motions.
Reconciling an £84million rise in the cost of services with the need to make a £38million saving over the next financial year, the 2022/23 Kent County Council budget includes:
- £484million – for providing adult social care and health services
- £52million – for maintaining roads, improving communities and digital connectivity
- £270million – for helping young people, and
- £5million – for protecting and improving the environment and tackling climate change
Full Council voted through a 2.99% increase in Council Tax, equal to an additional 82p for a typical band D household per week, to help cover costs that cannot be met by annual central government funding alone. 1% of the rise will be ring-fenced to meet an increase in spending on adult social care.
Two amendments were voted through as follows:
- A proposal not to increase the cost of the KCC Travel Saver Pass for children on free school meals by £30 a year – was put forward by Councillor Rich Lehmann and seconded by Councillor Steve Campkin, both of the Green & Independents Group. Cabinet Member for Finance Peter Oakford said he would not accept the source of funding for the amendment but promised to identify the money needed to avoid increasing the cost of the pass for children on free school meals.
- A proposal to keep the Disabled Companion Pass – was put forward by Councillor Ian Chittenden and seconded by Councillor Richard Streatfield, both of the Liberal Democrat Group. The Cabinet Member for Finance again rejected the proposed funding source for the amendment but said cost of retaining the pass would be built back into the authority’s base budget.
A majority passed changes to several discretionary services including:
- A proposed £80 increase to the full price of the Kent Travel Saver – a scheme KCC has funded over the past 10 years at a cost of over £90million and is not widely provided by other local authorities in England. The proposed rise would help cover the growing cost of providing transport services. Under the proposal, KTS passes for those in care groups would remain free and the Sibling Offer (which enables families with three or more children in the same household in school years 7-11 to only pay for the first two passes) remains.
- A proposed move to a new contract to deliver special educational needs home-to-school transport – to manage the significant rise in the number eligible for such support and the capacity issues currently being experienced by the transport sector, and
- Proposed changes to some bus routes – to meet a required saving of around a third of the current £6.5million Supported Bus Contracts budget.
- Transitional arrangements to be put in place when a £5million contract for Kent Homeless Connect expires in September – to ensure continued support for people who use the service for at least the remainder of the financial year.
Alongside the revenue budget, a £1.7billion programme of capital works for the next decade was also approved. Projects include:
- £92million for highways and other transport improvements – including the Dover Bus Rapid Transit project, Fastrack Bean Road Tunnels, Green Corridors, Herne Relief Road and Swale Infrastructure Projects, for 2022-23 alone, plus
- £85million to provide additional school places – in 2022-23.
Leader of Kent County Council Roger Gough said: “The spending pressures we face are severe. We have huge demands, especially in adult social care, as we come out of the pandemic and successive lockdowns, and more and more people come into our services with more complex needs.
“Many of those pressures will continue with us for the years to come. But the resources available to councils will not grow at the same rate. It means we must set a clear and decisive course for the years ahead and balance the books, which we are legally required to do.
“I have no wish to be raising council tax, or the cost of the Kent Travel Saver, at a time of pressure on living standards. But evidence of stress in our sector is all around us. And we know what happens when councils don’t face reality and lose control – financial failure means service failure too. Now is the time to take the decisions that set us on an even keel.
“The commitments we make in this budget are not the end, but a down payment on what we aim to do over the coming years.
“So long as we sustain our sound finances, we can not only go on delivering, day in and day out, services that are vital to the people of Kent but also undertake initiatives such as Reconnect and Helping Hands, which have both supported our residents through the pandemic and build something better as we come out of it. This budget underwrites those services.
“There is much work to be done in looking at how the County Council delivers the services that residents need and deserve while providing the best value for taxpayers that we possibly can. This includes accelerating our drive to use digital technology so we are more cost-effective and flexible in everything we do.
“It also includes rationalising the KCC estate, identifying and disposing of some buildings as we move out of the pandemic and consider how we best meet the needs of residents, our workforce and achieve our Net Zero ambitions.
“I will also continue making our case for fair funding from the Government.”
Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Finance, Corporate and Traded Services, Peter Oakford, said: “Despite an increase in government funding for the new financial year, the stark reality is that it is simply not enough.
“The current economic situation – rising inflation and soaring energy prices – has increased the cost of providing key services. While at the same time, central government contributions over the last decade have fallen by a total £750million.
“In addition, our growing and ageing population is increasing demand for council support. Responding to the pandemic has also resulted in a forecast overspend in 2021/22.
“As such, we have been left with no option but to make some extremely tough choices to prioritise and direct money to where it is needed most.”
Following today’s vote on the overarching budget plan for 2022/23, KCC will be identifying where consultation may be required for the key saving proposals before any final decisions on implementation.
A link to a recording of the budget meeting will be available in the coming days on kent.gov.uk
Read the full budget proposals, and the 10-year capital programme, here