Council tax payers are to see their bills rise by almost 2% under Kent County Council’s spending plans for the year. The 1.99% proposed hike means the authority will avoid the need to hold a referendum of residents to approve it. In the authority’s draft budget, average council tax bills for homes in Band D will rise by £21.33 to £1,089. Cllr John Simmonds, the Conservative cabinet member for fmance, denied accusations KCC was a “democracy dodger” and said the costs of holding a referendum would be prohibitive. Under the government’s contmuing public spending squeeze, KCC is having to tighten its belt yet again, with a cut in central grants of £87.5 million in 2015-16. That is despite increasing demand for some services, notably in adult care. Mr Simmonds said:
“We have lost about 13% of grantsfrom government along with the inevitable spending pressures, particularly with an increasing elderly population. We have identified the problems [in adult care] earlier and have been doing quite a lot of work on it. But other pressures have popped up.”
Rejecting the suggestion that KCC was dodging a referendum by setting the rise at 1.99%, he said:
“One of the things that came out during a con sultation was that people felt it was a reasonable step to take provided the money went to protecting the vulnerable. The cost of a referendum is well over £1 million. It is a no-brainer.”
Opposition Ukip leader Cllr Roger Latchford said his party would back the council tax rise and pointed the blame at the government.
“Nobody likes a tax increase but it is essential and we will support it so the books can be balanced and to minimise the effect on services. It is a fact of life that we are living in very difficult times. The government is placing more and more responsibilities on kw1 gnvernmnt and ivin it less and less money.”
KCC insisted frontline services would remain broadly intact. The council is going through a large out- sourcing programme in a bid to save tens of millions of pounds. The draft budget for 2015-16 will have to be agreed by the full council at a budget meeting in February.
Loan scheme saved
Amid the gloomy outlook, there is some good news. A KCC-run loan scheme that has helped thousands of people with crisis loans is to continue despite fears it would be axed. It offers critical short-term support to residents such as money for food. Figures obtained by KentOnline show that between April and December last year, KCC provided 4,000 people with emergency grants totalling £940,000.
Herne Bay Gazette, February 5th 2015