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