KCC is on track to deliver this year’s target savings of another £81m on top of savings of £269m over the last three years, but there are clear indications from government that the squeeze on local government finance will continue until at least 2018, which is a significant challenge.
The indications are that we will have to find a further £206m during the next three years, increasing the challenge still further, because of reduced levels of government funding and additional spending demands on services. These additional spending demands are often overlooked by central government and should not be played down.
The first draft of the budget solutions will go out to the public and the people of Kent are being asked their views on the services that are most important to them and where these unavoidable savings should be made. Part of the consultation asks whether they would accept a small increase to their council tax of 1.99% (in line with inflation), which would deliver in excess of £10m extra each year to help preserve services, reduce the need for savings and balance the books.
John Simmonds, Cabinet Member for Finance, says ‘The extent of the challenge is clear for all to see and the decisions we make in our budget will affect everyone in Kent. That’s why we want as many residents as possible to take part in our budget consultation. This is the toughest budget we’ve ever faced.”
In its budget of February 2014 KCC indicated that future savings would be made around further developing and transforming the way adult and children’s services are delivered, investing in quality preventative services that avoid wherever possible expensive interventions such as taking children into care and supporting independence when possible. We will also be undertaking a market engagement exercise for a number of our services which may include buying in more service from the private and voluntary sectors where they can deliver the same or improved level of quality at a lower cost that we can achieve in-house. At the same time any remaining in-house services will be subject to the same financial rigours as contracted or commissioned services.
“We are stepping up the pace and scale of health and social care integration and investing in preventative services which will transform the way healthcare is delivered in Kent,” says Leader of KCC Paul Carter.
“Working with our health colleagues we are ensuring that people are supported to remain safe and independent in their own homes and avoiding unnecessary hospital admissions by delivering effective, joined up healthcare within in every community in Kent. The transformation within children’s services is also keeping more families together while ensuring they receive all the care and support they need in the right place at the right time.”
KCC will also make further savings through greater control over its procurement contracts, driving a much harder bargain from its suppliers and reducing the number of premises occupied by the authority. This will ensure more efficient use of key locations, which will also involve looking at facilities occupied by other councils and government offices.
KCC will continue to monitor the pressures it faces, particularly the price pressures as inflation continues to fall. With our changed approach to adult and children’s services there should be a drop in the expected numbers. We are also looking at our capital programme to ensure all our projects are essential. Priority must be given to providing school places.
The financial challenges we face are unprecedented and reducing our spending by such a massive amount was never going to be easy. But for 2014/15 we have done what we promised and left no stone unturned in our bid to save more than £81m,” says Paul Carter.
“We have increased the number of services the council commissions from the private sector and delivered the first major changes of our transformation programme. We will measure all our services against the best that can be offered by the private and voluntary sectors to deliver the best possible services for the best value for the residents of Kent.”
“With family incomes still stretched we would, of course, prefer not to increase council tax next year. Unfortunately we don’t think this is possible. With a further £93m to save next year alone we have to make significant savings and efficiencies on how we spend public money. As well as asking which services to prioritise when we make savings – and further savings currently unidentified – we are asking residents whether they would accept a small increase to council tax of 1.99%, which is equivalent to £19 per year on a band C property/average household.”
As the chancellor George Osborne warns, the job of fixing the nation’s finances is only half done. Kent County Council is not alone in facing funding reductions.
As it seeks to set its budget, KCC:
- Is expected to lose a further 15% (£56m) in of Government funding in 2015/16
- must absorb £36m unavoidable spending pressures – due to increases in charges we pay, and more people requiring vital services such as social care
- must find £60m of capital to provide additional school places for the rising number of pupils in our primary schools
- is asking Kent residents to accept a small (1.99% increase) to help reduce the amount of savings needed and protect frontline services. This would raise £10m and equates to £19 for a Band C property.
Residents are being asked to give their views by going online and answering two short, simple questions on how they would like to see KCC meet the financial challenge. Or they can use an online budget tool to tell us their local priorities and decide how they would balance the KCC budget themselves. www.kent.gov.uk/budget