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New fears KCC and other council could become bankrupt

A local government chief has echoed warnings sounded by Kent that councils are at financial breaking point.

The chairman of the Local Government Association, Shaun Davies, is the latest high-profile figure to suggest many authorities are on the brink of going bust.

Local Government Association chairman Shaun Davies
Local Government Association chairman Shaun Davies

Councils have been flagging concerns for some years that falling budget revenues and rising costs have placed undue pressure on services, especially around social care.

Kent County Council (KCC) joined forces with Hampshire in 2022 to appeal to the government to rethink funding, so there are adequate resources to provide its statutory obligations.

KCC must find an estimated £86m in savings next year on top of tens of millions this year.

Mr Davies told the Observer: “Any suggestion of any further cuts on top of the current deficit we face and we’ll see the number of councils go bankrupt rise from one in 10 to a significantly higher number.”

Birmingham City Council recently issued a section 114 notice - which means an authority has gone bust and placed in the hands of government commissioners.

The Local Government Information Unit (LGiU) told the Local Democracy Reporting Service recently up to 20 councils are on the verge of collapse, Kent included.

County Hall in Maidstone
County Hall in Maidstone

Mr Davies added: “They (have) done the restructures. They have done the asset sales, they’ve done the staff reduction, they’ve done service redesign and they’ve done the transformation.

“They have used the reserves already. Once those things are gone, they’re gone.”

LGiU chief executive Dr Jonathan Carr-West said: “KCC has been quite clear that if nothing changes and it is not able to close its budget gap, it will be looking at issuing a section 114 – not this year but next year. So that's its own assessment and I see no reason to doubt that.”

That a “perfectly well-run” authority, KCC, has been appealing to government for assistance makes the overall picture “concerning”, he said.

Many council officials are at a loss to understand why the government continues to starve local authorities of funding needed to provide services it is legally obliged to.

Dr Carr-West said: “I don't know the answer to that question. And that is why somewhere like Kent is really interesting because if the government is not listening to Kent County Council, who on earth are they listening to?

Jonathan Carr-West has spoken about his concerns about funding
Jonathan Carr-West has spoken about his concerns about funding

“But they are not listening to Kent or Hampshire or Surrey – massive, true blue Conservative authorities forever and a day (half the cabinet have seats in these places)...it just seems truly baffling that they wouldn’t pay more attention.”

KCC is thought to have close to £1bn in reserves but much of those are in property and investments. Of the £400m in usable funds available to the council, a quarter will have been spent by next March just to balance the books.

A senior Conservative backbencher at County Hall said: "If you want to be cynical, it seems absolutely staggering that the government will not provide the local council with the funds to look after its voters.

"So when the general election comes round next year, you can see us getting punished."

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