Bills up, £80m cuts and fears of worse to come

Kentish Express Ashford & District - - Council Taxes To Rise - By Paul Fran­cis

County c oun­cil­lors have ap­proved a bud­get that will see coun­cil tax bills rise by just un­der 4% and in­cludes cuts of £80m – and have been warned the fi­nan­cial out­look is even bleaker next year.

Kent County Coun­cil says the in­fla­tion-bust­ing coun­cil tax rise in 2016 – the high­est for the au­thor­ity in sev­eral years – is needed to help bal­ance the books in the face of con­tin­u­ing cuts in govern­ment grants.

It means this year’s av­er­age house­hold bill will in­crease to £1,133 for homes in Band D prop­er­ties.

But op­po­si­tion par­ties have crit­i­cised a de­ci­sion by the Con­ser­va­tive-run au­thor­ity not to use an ex­tra £5.7m al­lo­cated by the govern­ment to help ease the bur­den. In­stead, the money is to be placed in re­serves.

KCC leader Cllr Paul Carter in­sisted the spend­ing plans had spared front­line ser­vices this year but bal­anc­ing the books next year rep­re­sented a “mas­sive chal­lenge.”

He said the au­thor­ity had cal­cu­lated it would need to save £160m in 2017 – twice the level of this year.

“We are star­ing down the bar­rel of a gun. It is re­gret­table that we have to put coun­cil tax up but we have no choice. It is, how­ever, es­sen­tial if we are to main­tain front­line ser­vices.”

Op­po­si­tion Ukip leader Roger Latch­ford said KCC needed to ex­am­ine ev­ery area of the coun­cil’s spend­ing. He said it was “morally wrong for the govern­ment to pass on the ex­tra costs of care to res­i­dents who are strug­gling to man­age.”

The coun­cil tax in­cludes a fur­ther 2% to bills to help cover the spi­ralling costs of and de­mand for care for the el­derly and vul­ner­a­ble.

The bud­get squeeze will also see the price of KCC’s Young Per­son’s Travel Pass in­crease - but by an uniden­ti­fied amount. It cur­rently costs £250.

There will be a £2m cut in roads main­te­nance and £500,000 less spent on sub­sidised bus ser­vices.

The coun­cil’s most sig­nif­i­cant pres­sures in­clude an ex­tra £31 mil­lion to cover ad­di­tional de­mand and in­creased costs for adult so­cial care.

A fur­ther £12 mil­lion is needed to meet the ad­di­tional de­mand for ser­vices such as waste dis­posal and spe­cial education needs trans­port.

KCC also has ad­di­tional costs of £13 mil­lion as a re­sult of changes in govern­ment leg­is­la­tion.

Th­ese in­cluded in­creases in em­ployer’s Na­tional In­sur­ance con­tri­bu­tions and the im­pact of the Na­tional Liv­ing Wage.

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