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Kent County Council could face £120m budget gap in 2022


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Kent County Council (KCC) could face a budget gap of up to £120million in the next financial year, it has emerged.

County Hall bosses were questioned about the cash position of the authority from April 2022 amid concerns over the viability of some councils in England.

KCC could face a budget gap of up to £120million in the next financial year
KCC could face a budget gap of up to £120million in the next financial year

It comes four weeks after KCC Conservatives approved a £1.1bn spending budget and to raise taxes by the maximum value of 5% for most residents.

Cllr Peter Oakford (Con), KCC's deputy leader and finance cabinet member, said there are "significant uncertainties" over the economic costs of Covid.

At full council earlier today, he revealed that the county council could have a deficit of between £20million to £120million from April 2022 to April 2023.

The Tunbridge Wells member said: "Over the next few months we will update our financial assumptions to help inform the steps we will take to address any budget gaps."

His comments came after opposition leaders raised concerns about the future viability of the county council, whose services support 1,600 children in care; 1,200 older people in nursing homes and more than 10,000 social work cases.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced his coronavirus recovery budget last week. Picture: PA
Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced his coronavirus recovery budget last week. Picture: PA

Chancellor Rishi Sunak last week announced a coronavirus recovery budget, including £7.9billion in grant funding, to address the pressures facing councils since last March. However many are still reporting some gaps.

Yesterday, the National Audit Office forecast at least 25 councils in England are on the brink of bankruptcy, which could impact services of social care, special educational needs, pothole repairs, information centres and theatres.

KCC's Labour group leader, Cllr Dara Farrell, asked whether more aid will be available to the Garden of England from the government's "magic money tree".

Cllr Farrell said: "We know people will take home less of the money they earn as we move forward, but will austerity return before it ever really went away?"

In response, Cllr Oakford said: "I would love to think there is a magic money tree, but unfortunately one does not exist."

Cllr Dara Farrell Picture: Gary Browne
Cllr Dara Farrell Picture: Gary Browne

Meanwhile, the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), headed by Minister Robert Jenrick, says it has "engaged extensively" with local authorities to gather data on the financial impact of Covid-19.

On February 10, MHCLG provided emergency financial support totalling £50.5 million to four authorities, including Kent's London neighbour Bexley Council.

Amid the coronavirus crisis, KCC has received a government financial support package of around £140million to cover rising costs over the last 12 months.

KCC leader Roger Gough (Con) described the situation as a "mixed picture" but said he does not forecast a return to austerity years in the 2010s.

He told full council: "There has been considerable support and we have sought to make the very best use of that funding.

"Local government historically has not been top of the priority list at a time when areas, such as the NHS and armed forces make their demands on national budgets."

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