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Kent County Council budget: council tax bills to rise

by Political Editor Paul Francis and Local Democracy Reporter Caitlin Webb

County councillors have backed a budget that will see KCC’s share of the council tax bill rise by a shade under 5% - one of the biggest increases in recent years.

At the same time, this year will also see savings of £53 million.

The 5% increase includes a 2% levy that will raise more money for adult social care and a 3% increase for all services.

Council tax bills could rise by more than £100. Picture: Thinkstock Image Library
Council tax bills could rise by more than £100. Picture: Thinkstock Image Library

Average bills for households in Band D properties will rise to £1,237.68.

The Conservative administration’s spending plans were approved at a meeting today that was marked by a warning from opposition parties that residents would be paying more for less.

That charge was rejected by the Conservative leader Paul Carter, who said the budget preserved frontline services and the authority’s focus on efficiency savings had meant Kent was in better shape than other county councils.

But he delivered a stark ultimatum to the government over the as yet unmet costs for looking after child asylum seekers who had reached the age of 18.

That cost is £4.6m and could rise to close to £8m next year.

And he angrily rejected the suggestion that the council “played politics” with asylum seekers.

“This is a national issue not just Kent’s and the shortfall in Home Office Funding is now starting to disrupt the Voluntary Asylum Dispersal Scheme as more and more authorities are holding significant multi-million pound shortfalls,” he said.

“We cannot afford to pay for these costs and nothing less than the full costs is acceptable.”

He also warned that the government’s review of funding for councils needed to recognise that counties had been shortchanged for years.

“The government should start to address the unfairness in the current funding system, recognising counties should, if fair and needs-led, receive a fairer and bigger slice of resource.”

But the Conservatives rejected a number of proposals by opposition parties to invest more money in areas like road maintenance, a shortage of social workers and dementia care.

The budget will see a cut of £455,000 to socially necessary bus services; an as yet undecided increase in the the Young Person’s Travel Card.

Liberal Democrat opposition leader Rob Bird said: “Back in July, Kent’s Conservatives showed just how out of touch they are by awarding themselves a 15% pay rise just a couple of months after the county elections.

Council tax bills are to rise by just under 5%
Council tax bills are to rise by just under 5%

“This budget demonstrates that they have learnt nothing from the massive public outcry that caused, and they continue to be focused on cutting local government services when they should be investing for the future.

“For the past seven years, Kent’s Tories have tried to persuade the electorate that front-line services were not affected by the £600 million plus reduction in Central Government grants thanks to back office efficiencies, better commissioning and ‘new ways of working’. The reality is very different.”

Budget flashpoints included a call by the Green councillor Martin Whybrow for a £1.1m investment in recruiting social workers to ensure that their caseloads were within government limits.

KCC was also accused of failing to spend enough on roads maintenance with the Liberal Democrats saying that £43m more than was planned to spend was needed just to keep on top of repairs this year.

Council taxpayers in Kent are set to see average household bills rise by more than £100 in what will be one of the biggest hikes in recent years.

And in many cases, householders may be paying more for less as councils squeeze spending in the face of dwindling government grants.

Kent County Council's cabinet members are rubber-stamping the hike at a meeting today.

Here's how the budget meeting unfolded

[Live Grid - Counciltax]

An analysis by the KM Group shows that the combined bill for Band D households - the average - is likely to increase from £1,563.34 to £1,672.80, a hike of £109 or 7%.

That sum is based on the combined charges for Kent County Council, the district or borough council; the Kent crime commissioner and Kent Fire and Rescue service.

The government has given councils the option of increasing the council tax by 3% this year to help them raise more money.

At the same time, Kent County Council will again be adding an additional 2% to its bills to help meet the increasing demand for social services for vulnerable and elderly residents.

Its overall increase - due to be rubber stamped at the meeting today - will be 4.99%.

Our analysis shows that all but two district and borough councils are likely to be taking the opportunity to increase tax by just under 3%.

The two that are not are Ashford and Shepway.

Residents in Ashford will be paying the lowest council tax in Kent, with the charge for its services increasing by £3.50 to £157.50 - about 2.3%.

In contrast, residents in Maidstone face the highest charge for its services with the average Band D bill rising to £252.90.

Kent County Council accounts for the largest share of the bill and county councillors will vote on Tuesday on a planned increase of 4.99% - bringing the average Band D bill up to £1,237.68.

Medway council - a unitary authority that provides all services - will propose the largest increase of anywhere in Kent, hitting residents with a 5.99% increase in bills.

That will see average bills rise by £77.66 to £1,374.22.

Many councils have complained the tax rises are being forced on them by the government.

They say local authorities have been targeted for grant cuts at a time when demand for their services is increasing.

KCC, which is due to set its budget today, is being forced to save some £53 million this year but says it is fast reaching the point where frontline services are now threatened.

Our analysis is based on draft budget proposals set out by councils and the impact on average bills for Band D properties.

Properties in the higher bands will pay proportionately more while those in lower value homes will pay less.

Meanwhile, the council has opted to raise the minimum hourly wage for council workers to £8.10 from April - but a proposal to spend an extra £170,000 on youth services was voted down.

Labour councillors urged the council to increase its “investment in the future of Kent” and support so called youth hubs, which provide peer mentoring and counselling to people dealing with drug or alcohol misuse, sexual health and mental health illnesses.

But Conservative Cllr Roger Gough, cabinet member for children, young people and education, told the meeting it was not a priority, adding: "There’s quite a lot going on in this area already.”

However, an extra £4.45m has been earmarked to ensure all staff on band two of the council’s pay scale will receive an hourly wage above the national living and minimum wage.

Council leader Paul Carter said he hoped the move showed staff they were valued.

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