KCC Leader Paul Carter has paid tribute to the council’s staff who had helped produce the budget for the coming financial year, despite huge further cutbacks in monies from central government.
After producing savings of £640 million over the past eight years, the council has risen to the challenge of finding another £73 million to fund rising spending pressures during 2019/20.
Mr Carter told the annual budget meeting on Thursday: “I am sure all Members would like to join in thanking all of our staff for their hard work, dedication, creativeness, innovation and productivity.
“This enables us today, to approve this budget as set out which maintains, improves and enhances the services that we deliver to the 1.5 million residents of Kent and safeguards this council’s financial resilience and future.”
KCC was able to announce the following messages, as it outlined how it intends to spend £988 million on council services:
It is bringing forward to April this year plans to pay its lowest-paid staff the Foundation Living Wage of £9 per hour – an increase of more than 10%. This change is one year earlier than originally planned.
There will be its biggest ever investment in highways. This has risen from £70 million in 2017/18, to £89 million in the current year, and will rise next year to £95.7 million. This is in addition to the £28 million recently promised from the Department for Transport for highways improvements to mitigate against the impact of Brexit.
In proposing the budget to the full council on Thursday, Leader Paul Carter said: “Despite the financial challenges we have endured through the Government’s austerity programme, we are able to continue to deliver many non-statutory services, so highly valued by our residents.”
- Subsidised bus services – £6.2 million
- Economic Development – £2.3 million
- Member Grants – £1.2 million
- Housing related support for the most vulnerable – £7.1 million
- Community services including community wardens, arts and culture, country parks – £6.5 million
- Children in need of family support – £9.8 million
- Young Person’s Travel Pass – £8.1 million on this non-statutory service. Mr Carter was pleased to announce that, although the cost to parents was rising, the the council was helping with their cash-flow by introducing an eight-instalment “payment scheme” for the coming academic year.
He said it was important to recognise the significant income generated by the council’s commercial activity, with Commercial Services on target to deliver £4.4 million and Cantium Business Solutions £1.8 million.
He said the budget plan was “the very best we can deliver for our residents, that protects and enhances frontline services and delivers an ambitious capital Infrastructure programme – for schools, roads, bridges, railway stations and waste collection facilities”.
Mr Carter also called on the Chancellor to increase substantially the allocation of funds to local government, now that the Prime Minister had made a welcome statement that “austerity is ending”.
“The local government cake needs to become bigger to reflect the rising demands, reflecting changing demography that supports a growing elderly population, particularly in counties and take account of inflationary costs both on staff pay and prices for commissioned, bought-in services,” he said.
”Never before, in my long experience, have we had to set a medium-term budget, with so much uncertainty beyond year one. However, I am optimistic that the Fair Funding review will give counties a bigger slice of the cake and that Kent County Council will benefit significantly.”
He did, however, congratulate the government on investing more than £1 billion into the local government sector through various channels such as winter funding and pothole monies. The £20 million that came to Kent helped solve its funding gap from the previous financial year.
“Our expectations are now high for a sensible Spending Review allocation,” he said.
To help pay for its services in 2019/20, KCC is going to raise council tax by 2.99 per cent, plus the 2 per cent specifically allocated for social care, in line with most other councils across the country. These two increases will raise an extra £33.7million.
The budget proposals were approved by 56 votes to nine.