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Medway council faces £28 million shortfall but rules out bankruptcy fears

A council is facing a £28 million budget gap - but doesn't expect to go bankrupt like its neighbouring authority.

Medway Council leader Alan Jarrett (Con) said his authority is dealing with the hardest ever budget setting process as it grapples with mounting social care costs.

Medway Council leader Alan Jarrett
Medway Council leader Alan Jarrett

It comes as Kent County Council issued a warning to the Chancellor saying it could go bankrupt within two years without help from the government.

In August, Medway's finance officers said the council was £12.5 million overspent on this year's budget.

But a report presented to cabinet members ahead of a meeting yesterday said this figure has now risen to more than £14 million.

The budget gap could reach £28.7 million in the next financial year.

Cllr Jarrett said he didn't expect the council to be forced into declaring bankruptcy any time soon.

He said decisions around staffing levels and whether vacancies need to be filled would have to be made.

The local authority says it needs more funds to balance its books. Picture: iStock
The local authority says it needs more funds to balance its books. Picture: iStock

Almost £4 million needs to be found for funding adult social care, with officers saying placement costs are creating the most strain.

The budget for children's services was set at just less than £57 million in February, and officers are currently forecasting an overspend of £7.6 million in this area.

Cllr Jarrett said "expensive out-of-area placements" and "the high cost of agency workers" were two areas putting pressure on the department.

He added: "When we set the budget for this year in February, there wasn't a war in Ukraine, there wasn't a whole load of other systemic pressures, there wasn't massive inflationary pressures – with inflation spiralling into double figures – all of that has a major impact on what the council does, on its supply chain, and eventually impacts on service delivery."

The 2022/23 budget included a £4.8 million hole which was plugged using reserve funds

"This budget setting is the most difficult I have ever encountered and I've been working on Medway's budget for 21 years"

Speaking about the situation facing Medway's neighbours ahead of the meeting, Cllr Jarrett said: "All upper-tier authorities – counties and unitaries – are in the same boat with this enormous pressures on demand-led services in children's and adults social care and this budget setting is the most difficult I have ever encountered and I've been working on Medway's budget for 21 years.

"This is the hardest one yet and I agree with what the county is saying, we need extra funding.

"I know everyone's asking for extra funding, but what the county said was we either need extra funding or more flexibility on dealing with the pressures because what we have been getting from successive governments is less and less funding, and more and more demands."

Councils legally have to deliver a balanced budget and if spending exceeds funding, they face decisions on whether they will use their reserves or cut services.

On Thursday, the Chancellor will present the Autumn Statement.

Medway Council is facing a budget black hole
Medway Council is facing a budget black hole

One of the things which analysts are saying could happen is the Treasury could let councils up the amount they increase council tax by.

Currently, authorities are allowed to increase the tax by a maximum of 1.99% every year, and another 1% which is ring fenced just to fund social care.

If they want to raise it any further, their plans must be put to a vote in a local referendum.

Cllr Jarrett said of this: "That doesn't play very well in a time of a cost of living crisis with the electorate, and nor does it play very well with the electorate when we have an election in just six months' time."

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