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Kent County Council plan to raise taxes to pay for services

By Paul Francis

Council taxpayers face another hike in bills next year after Kent County Council said it was proposing an increase of just under 5%.

The council’s ruling Conservative administration faces another difficult budget in the face of a growing demand for services, chiefly for adult social care.

It has admitted that even with a 5% increase, it will still need to save £57 million - raising the prospect of cuts in services.

If agreed, average council tax bills for homes in Band ‘D’ would rise by £59 to £1,237.77.

For homes in Band ‘C’ - of which there is the largest number in the county - the increase would be £52.35, taking it to £1,100.17.

The 5% increase would be made up of just under 3% for all services plus a further 2% to raise additional money specifically for the care of vulnerable adults.

Council tax bill
Council tax bill

KCC leader Paul Carter said: “There is no doubt that we face some tough decisions.

"We have identified a potential £41m of savings so far but still need to find a further £16m if we are to continue to support good local services for the next financial year and beyond.”

KCC leader Cllr Paul Carter
KCC leader Cllr Paul Carter

He warned the scope for savings without hitting frontline services was “very limited” but held out the prospect that the end of austerity could see the outlook for councils improving.

The council would wait to hear if the government would find more money to plug the spending gap in next week’s Autumn Budget.

“As a responsible local authority we are having to plan for no change. It’s encouraging that, post Brexit, the Prime Minister has intimated there will be an end to austerity,” said Cllr Carter.

The authority’s spending plans come against a backdrop of diminishing government grants for councils, which have left many complaining that they only have enough money to fund so-called ‘core’ services.

While KCC has stripped around £640m from its spending over the last eight years, it has weathered the financial storm better than some, with Northants county council effectively bankrupted.

The 5% increase would raise an extra £37m for the council but the final bill for householders will be higher as it excludes the council tax set by district and borough councils, along with the Kent Police charge.

There will be a public consultation on the proposed budget which will ask people if they are prepared to pay more to safeguard existing services and if they believe the council has got its priorities.

Details of the consultation and on how to take part can be found at: www.kent.gov.uk/budget.

Residents who do not have personal access to a computer can visit their local library and complete the questionnaire online there either through one of our free public access computers or if they have their own device by using the free public Wi-Fi.

Kent County Council has been warned that it risks storing up problems for the future if budget cuts hit key preventative services such as caring for vulnerable children.

The warning came from the opposition Liberal Democrat leader on KCC after the Conservative administration unveiled details of its spending plans next year which include a possible 5% increase in the council tax.

Councillor Rob Bird said: “It is not just essential services being cut but services that are an investment for the future such as children's services and other preventative services which are vital to maintaining a healthy society.”

“I think it is going to be very difficult. The county council has done a good job in making efficiencies in the past but we are scraping the bottom of the barrel now and I think the quality of services will diminish.”

Under the proposed budget plans, if agreed, average council tax bills for homes in Band ‘D’ would rise by £59 to £1,237.77.

For homes in Band ‘C’ - of which there is the largest number in the county - the increase would be £52.35, taking it to £1,100.17.

Speaking at a press conference today council leader Paul Carter admitted that the authority had yet to identify where it could save £16m on top of the £41m already earmarked.

“Our big hope and expectation is that by lobbying the government we might get additional money to fund services. County councils have taken the most serious financial punishment of any part of the public sector. We have lobbied hard to alleviate some of the pain which may have to happen.”

It is possible that the Chancellor may announce some additional funding for local government at next week's budget.

ANALYSIS

If Theresa May is to be believed, the period of austerity is ended - or at least coming to an end.

If it is, then she can expect council leaders to be queueing up outside Downing Street ready to argue their case for more generous funding settlements.

KCC has endured successive years of belt-tightening which has seen budgets slashed by hundreds of millions of pounds, hitting frontline services for some of the most vulnerable.

Councils have had a raw deal in recent years, shouldering a disproportionate amount of pain as other parts of the public sector were safeguarded.

KCC has, despite the swingeing cuts in government grants that has just about managed to walk the financial high wire without falling as it faced increased demand and pressures on services, estimated at £371m.

The end of the period of austerity just might have come in time.

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