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14 councils in Kent facing £245million deficit following coronavirus

Kent councils desperately need government cash to prevent local authorities "falling down like a pack of cards", councillors have warned.

The county's 14 councils are together facing a mounting deficit of £245million from the coronavirus crisis, it was revealed earlier this month.

KMTV's Ollie Collins reports

Medway Council will need to find ways to recoup a £40million shortfall; the 12 district authorities are expected to have a £155m deficit while Kent County Council (KCC) will need to plug a cash gap of at least £50million.

Opposition leaders at Maidstone County Hall have told the Conservative administration that "tough" decisions will have to be made ahead of a crunch full council meeting in September where an emergency in-year budget will be made.

KCC's main opposition leader Rob Bird (Lib Dem), of Maidstone, said: "If central government do not come up with some money soon, councils across the country will fall down like a pack of cards."

Nearly 150 local authorities across the country have predicted a budget shortfall, with some fearing bankruptcy, including Liverpool City Council. Birmingham City Council has the largest deficit of any England authority at £212m followed by Essex (£171m) and Manchester (£133m).

KCC is one of 20 UK councils planning to hold an in-year budget to review extra spending pledges and any potential cuts to services. Some local authorities have considered closing libraries and children's centres.

"If central government do not come up with some money soon, councils across the country will fall down like a pack of cards..."

Cllr Dara Farrell, the leader of KCC's Labour Group, said: "The KCC administration do not want to talk with us about the financial situation."

"Some tough conversations will need to be had ahead of the September budget meeting, with a £50million hole larger than some authorities."

On June 22, KCC's cabinet was told by its officers that the coronavirus will likely have a "profound" impact on future policy decisions made by the county council.

A total of 17 key "high" and "medium" risks have been identified by KCC over the coming months. These include greater demands on adult social care and children's services; pressure to deliver new school places this September, potential flooding and cyber-attack threats.

On April 2, Kent Commercial Services, a company owned by KCC, was targeted by cyber attackers demanding an £800,000 Bitcoin ransom as the criminals stole data and leaked it onto the dark web.

KCC's leader Roger Gough (Con) said: "The idea that risk has increased to the council over the last few months is not surprising."

Roger Gough
Roger Gough

Speaking during a virtual cabinet meeting he chaired on June 22, Cllr Gough added: "Wherever it is possible to bring forward mitigations, it's very important that we do so."

On the economic position, a report published to KCC's cabinet on June 15 stated: "Our finances are, and will continue to be, under considerable strain due to the costs of the coroanvirus response and recovery effort."

KCC's response to the Covid-19 emergency will be reviewed by County Hall's scrutiny committee in a virtual meeting next Tuesday from 11am.

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