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County Hall bid to prevent huge tax rises

CUTS in Kent County Council services totalling £15million could be needed if council tax increases are to be kept to single figures next year. County Hall’s Tory leaders have ordered officers to draw up savings plans of between £5million and £15million after councillors ruled out a budget they say would have meant a hike of nearly 12 per cent on next year’s bills.

A final decision on Kent’s billion pound budget will be made in February but it already seems likely that any savings will mean some service cutbacks. However, KCC insists that key frontline services will be protected and that efforts will be made to ensure any savings come from cutting back on red tape and administration.

Council leader Sandy Bruce-Lockhart said: “The initial council tax projection would have been totally unacceptable to us and the people of Kent so we have to find further savings to bring it down. That review will be rigorous but will protect vital front-line services.”

KCC says the amount of money the government has given it to provide services has failed to reflect the growing pressure on some services, notably social care. The council will receive nearly £745million of government cash to fund its services in 2002-03 - an increase of roughly £44million over last year. It will also receive above average increases for education and social services.

The total budget is likely to be slightly more than £1billion and as is usual, the shortfall will be made up chiefly through the council tax. Labour said Kent had done well compared to the sums of money the previous Conservative government had given the county. Opposition leader Cllr Mike Eddy said: “There is a definite feeling in government that the whingeing Tories are damaging the interests of Kent,” he said.

Liberal Democrat leader Cllr Trudy Dean echoed: “An increase of 6.6 per cent is the best since 1991 and that has to be something to be welcomed.”

The KCC part of the council tax meant average bills for householders in Band D homes this year were £694. A ten per cent increase would push this up to above £760.

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