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Kent County Council need to make £86m savings to meet budget

Massive budget savings must be found by Kent County Council (KCC) in order to balance the books in the next year - with many services now facing the axe.

More than £86m in economies need to be identified at a time of squeezed budgets and soaring costs.

KCC will consider their budget on Thursday
KCC will consider their budget on Thursday

By law, KCC has to maintain statutory services, such as social care and education, so the spotlight is likely to fall on areas regarded as ‘discretionary’.

The county’s respected Community Wardens are the latest to feel the pinch as the service’s £2.4m budget faces a £1m cut.

Other areas such as children’s centres and libraries may be vulnerable, as will KCC’s workers.

The council has already indicated that four household rubbish tips will need to shut in order to realise £1.5m in savings.

In a detailed and “challenging” report to be considered by KCC members on Thursday, auditors Grant Thornton lays bare the authority’s predicament.

The London-based firm states: “Steps need to be taken by the council to control expenditure. The council will need to be realistic about the capacity available to support delivery of the savings

KCC need to make £86m in savings to reach their budget
KCC need to make £86m in savings to reach their budget

“The administration will need to prioritise and consult and will need to be able to communicate how and what it prioritised.

“Some very difficult decisions will need to be made by the ruling administration to reduce expenditure and in some cases withdraw or pare back existing services.”

The report adds: “The council has reported a significant forecast overspend in 2022-23 that is likely to impact on its financial resilience.

“The overspend…is likely to affect the council’s ability to continue to deliver the services currently provided or to the same level in future years.”

Cllr Neil Baker, the Conservative chairman of the Growth, Economic Development and Communities Cabinet Committee, said: “The auditor’s report makes for very challenging reading.

“We cannot pretend that it is all roses and sunny uplands but what the auditor does is put it out there that we have to make tough decisions and we’re not hiding from it, in the way that other authorities have.

“As for what may have to go, we are not in a position to rule anything in or out.”

Cllr Neil Baker says the authority has tough decisions to make
Cllr Neil Baker says the authority has tough decisions to make

As for statutory service, one key area of major concern is Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) having posted an overspend of tens of millions of pounds at a time when demand is rising.

The well-regarded Kent Community Warden Service (KCWS) which faces losing staff in a bid to shave £1m from its £2.4m budget.

It currently employs 70 who will go into a 12 week consultation from July 12.

A KCC documents state: “The KCWS had a budget of approximately £2.4m (2022/23). As the majority of the budget is staffing costs, there will need to be staff reductions to achieve the proposed savings.”

The £1m saving would be over two years.

Cllr Baker added: “The wardens do a brilliant job and we have to consider what it might cost us as an authority of not having them.”

One of Grant Thornton’s judgement states: “In the absence of additional government funding, which is unlikely in the current economic climate, difficult decisions about reduced spending will be necessary in the near term.

“Effective consultation and communication with residents about how and what the ruling administration prioritises will be necessary.”

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