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Libraries and household waste recycling centres ‘face the axe’ as Kent County Council hunts for £81m savings

The leader of the county's largest local authority has sought to quell fears tips and libraries are set to be axed to save money.

Kent County Council leader Cllr Roger Gough has no intention of closing the facilities despite needing to find £81m to fill the budget gap in 2025-26.

Cllr Roger Gough
Cllr Roger Gough

His position, however, is at odds with the understanding of several of his senior team the Local Democracy Reporting Service has spoken to, who say the cuts are “almost inevitable”.

The leader said: “We are undertaking extensive work on delivering a balanced budget for the council for 2025-26.

“This does not include any proposals related to closures of either libraries or household waste recycling centres and they will not be brought forward.”

But a source close to Cllr Gough disclosed: “Ten days out from a general election and this comes out. We will see in a few months whether the tips and the libraries are safe.”

According to the well-placed sources, libraries and recycling centres will not be spared from cuts as KCC seeks to make massive savings in order to avoid bankruptcy.

Just a few months after members voted through this year’s budget, the authority’s senior leadership is delving into every corner of the authority for efficiencies.

The Tovil Recycling Centre in Burial Ground Lane
The Tovil Recycling Centre in Burial Ground Lane

Conservative-run KCC, like almost every other authority in the country, is not receiving enough central government funding to meet the soaring costs of providing its services.

Liberal Democrat campaigner Cllr Dave Naghi said KCC is “no longer fit for purpose” and predicted a huge public backlash.

Failure to balance the books could result in KCC having to issue a section 114 notice - an effective admission of bankruptcy - with the prospect of government commissioners appointed to run the council.

Transport and highways cabinet member Cllr Neil Baker said: “Without singling out any one area out, it is fair to say that we are looking at absolutely everything.

“No matter what happens at the general election on July 4, local government funding situation is not going to change in the next few months or even years.”

One of the sources says selling library buildings and a reduction in the number of tips by up to four are on the table once more.

County Hall in Maidstone
County Hall in Maidstone

The threat will almost certainly return in the coming months and a public backlash is almost inevitable.

It also means the ruling Conservatives will go to the polls in May 2025 weeks after having made more cuts to discretionary (those not required by law) spending.

Some backbenchers believe the Tories will suffer badly at the ballot box, perhaps losing up to half of the 60 seats they secured last time.

The closure of household waste recycling centres were shelved last summer, although the council leadership did indicate the issue would re-emerge later.

The council will make the case the county’s tips run at around 80% capacity and closures wouldn’t materially affect users’ experiences, especially under the new booking system.

Four out of six tips are under threat. The six are Faversham, Tovil in Maidstone, Deal , Richborough, Dartford and Swanley.

Liberal Democrat Dave Naghi
Liberal Democrat Dave Naghi

In January, KCC deputy leader Cllr Peter Oakford caused uproar by declaring there “far too many libraries” in Kent compared to other areas.

The source said that there are clusters of libraries close together which could be cut “without inconveniencing users too much”.

The source added: “It is going to be greatly resisted but it is inevitable, I am afraid. Given the choice, we wouldn’t be closing any of them. There is no choice.”

The authority is in charge of 99 libraries.

Cllr Naghi, a cabinet member at Maidstone Borough Council, said: “The Tories at KCC are not fit for purpose and the public will simply not stand for this

“If a council cannot keep the tips and libraries open, what on earth are they for? KCC isn’t fit for purpose any more.”

KCC Tory councillor Neil Baker
KCC Tory councillor Neil Baker

If the Conservatives do badly at the general election, pressure may grow on Cllr Gough, who may face another leadership challenge at the Conservative AGM in October.

The source said: “This may demoralise back benchers further, especially if they are going to stand in the election a few weeks after making a load of cuts to services and facilities the voters have hitherto enjoyed.

“The flip side of that is that those most likely to be up to the job, like Jeremy Kite, Sir Paul Carter, Nick Chard or Peter Oakford probably wouldn’t want it. It’s a poison chalice.”

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