Published: 08:25, 15 January 2018
Council tax payers face an above-inflation 5% increase in bills this year under spending plans set out by Kent County Council today.
The 4.99% increase means one of the biggest hikes in bills for several years.
The authority’s Conservative administration confirmed wide-ranging savings totalling £53m in its budget - but denied it would mean cuts to services.
Amid the gloomy financial situation, there was some good news as the council said controversial cuts to buses it subsidised were now off the agenda - thanks to the decision to take up the option of increasing the council tax by an additional 1% this year under the government’s decision to relax the current cap on household bills of 2%.
The 4.99% increase will mean a £59 hike for Band D homes - the average - taking the sum to £1,237.68, not including tax paid towards local councils, policing and the fire service.
For homes in Band C - of which there are the most in the county - the rate will rise to £1,100.16.
KCC leader Paul Carter said the government continued to short-change councils and it had little room to manoeuvre.
He said: “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 frontline services.”
The 1% addition in the tax would raise £6m, a sum that failed to compensate for the loss of government grants.
Mr Carter continued: “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 and adult social care, libraries, youth services and transport.”
There was criticism from the Cllr Rob Bird, opposition leader of the Liberal Democrats. He said the council was paying for the government’s “disdain” for local councils and had failed to identify £8m of the savings needed.
He said: “Paul Carter states that he has pleaded with his Conservative colleagues in Westminster for more funding. However, it is clear that they weren’t listening or didn’t care.”
On the climbdown on cuts to bus services, he said: “Kent’s bus users will be relieved that there should be few cuts to subsidised services next year but the threat is still there for the following years. As always, it will be the most needy and the most vulnerable who will bear the brunt of service cuts.
“It is sad to see staff and the frontline services they provide being hit with further cuts, particularly in the wake of the Conservative councillors voting themselves an unprecedented 15% pay increase. There are unprecedented pressures on our budget and yet we are spending less money.”
On the bus cuts U-turn, Cllr Carter said the savings needed had dropped to £450,000 from £2.25m, adding: "We believe there are smarter, more responsive ways to deliver these services."
The budget plans will be voted on at a meeting on February 20.