Kent County Council is approaching the start of another financial year facing an immense challenge in setting the council’s budget.
In the coming financial year, KCC has a budget gap of £113 million out of the council’s net budget of approximately £1 billion.
Savings of £53 million are needed as government funding reduces by £45 million, coupled with the rising demand for services, particularly for children’s and adult social care and linked to inflation costs currently rising at more than 3% a year.
To date, unlike many other councils, KCC has avoided making significant cuts in frontline services.
It is continuing to make savings through efficiency and productivity, effective commissioning and procurement, service transformation and judicious use of the council’s reserves.
KCC is fast reaching the point where frontline services are now threatened.
However, since it announced its budget consultation in September 2017 for the coming financial year 2018/19, there have been two significant announcements made by the government.
Firstly, the announcement that the government has accepted the Kent and Medway bid to become a Business Rate Retention pilot scheme in 2018/19.
The bid was very innovative, working with the 12 district councils, Medway Council and the Kent Fire and Rescue Authority.
This good news will potentially deliver £5.6million of additional resource for the county council for the coming financial year.
Secondly, the provisional local government settlement for 2018/19 announced by the Secretary of State in the House of Commons included an increase in the amount authorities can raise in council tax by 1% without a referendum (this is worth £6 million to KCC).
This announcement has to be balanced against the disappointment that the provisional local government settlement did not include an extension of the Transitional Grant worth £5.3 million.
KCC will continue to lobby government for this transitional funding to be reinstated.
Leader of Kent County Council Paul Carter said, “My colleagues and I have an instinctive belief in lower, not higher, taxes but we have an equal concern and that is to protect and deliver effective and efficient public services.
“It is a concern that arises not just from our day-to-day roles here at County Hall but from decades of investment in schools, children’s and adults social care, libraries, youth services and transport.
“It is never easy to see council tax rise. However, our autumn consultation with the public has shown that the respondents will accept manageable council tax increases if these are used to protect front line services.
“Whilst the additional 1% will raise £6 million, it by no means compensates for the loss of grants but will go some way to protect frontline services.”
KCC is therefore joining county councils across the country in proposing to raise council tax to protect and deliver the services it believes our community deserves.
In 2018/19 it is proposed it will be raised by just under 5%, adding £52.30 to the annual charge of the average band C household in Kent.
As a result of our success in becoming one of the government’s business rate pilots next year and our proposal to take up the government’s option to increase council tax by 1%, we are proposing to:
- Substantially reduce the savings proposed on subsidised bus travel from £2.25 million to £0.45 million. We believe there are smarter, more responsive ways to deliver these services. We intend to arrange a whole series of big conversations with parish councils and communities on how this can be delivered. The proposed budget sees an additional investment of £500,000 to fulfil these ambitions.
- Continue the £8.7 million subsidy provided through the Young Persons Travel Pass.
- An additional £7.5 million capital investment in maintaining Kent’s roads including pothole repairs.
- Protect Kent’s most vulnerable children and adults with a total increase in the budget of £16 million.
Before the budget is agreed committees within the council will scrutinise the plans being made for individual directorates and the budget will be finalised at the county council meeting on 20 February.
- Since 2010 and up to the end of the current financial year Kent County Council will have delivered savings of £591 million. We have another £53 million in the plans for 2018/19.
- The proposed budget assumes all asylum costs incurred by KCC will be met by government.
- The amount our central government funding has reduced since 2010 to the end of the current financial year is £238 million, with a further £31 million reduction in 2018/19. The savings we need to make to balance the grant reductions and the rising costs and increasing demand – only partially offset by council tax increases.
- Spending on social services now accounts for over half KCC’s spending – adults spending is 44% and children’s is 12%.
- The referendum limit is being increased because of rising inflation to 3%.