THERE will not be ‘a single department within Kent County Council’ (KCC) that will be immune to cuts, county councillors have been told.
In June, the authority had projected a budgetary black hole of £50million for the current financial year, but the overspend is likely to reach £70million, Leader Cllr Roger Gough (Conservative) told members of KCC’s Full Council at the end of last month.
Around £45million of this was due to inflation, Cllr Gough said, with council expenditure rising while revenues did not increase.
“We were always anticipating that, post-pandemic, public spending would remain relatively tightly held and local government is seldom, if ever, at the top of the pecking order when it comes to that,” he told councillors.
“We will go on pushing extremely hard for additional financial support for this council, and indeed councils as a whole will.
“But I think it is only prudent to accept the environment as we see it, certainly as a basis for our planning.”
Council leaders have warned that further cuts to the already-stretched services supporting Kent’s residents are going to be ‘extremely challenging and hit hard’.
Cllr Peter Oakford (Tunbridge Wells North), KCC’s Cabinet Member for Finance, said: “We are facing huge cuts that we are going to have to make and savings we are going to have to make next year to balance the budget.
“There is not a single department within Kent County Council that will not be facing some form of cut in its budget going forward. I would be very surprised if there is if we’re going to balance the budget.”
The warning comes as the County Councils Network (CCN), of which KCC is a member, has this week written to the Treasury to say that the prospect of funding reductions on top of soaring inflation would be ‘unthinkable and devastating’ for services across the country and be ‘worse than austerity’.
CCN says a bare minimum approach under those circumstances could be the only option for some councils to stave off bankruptcy.
Mr Oakford said: “We cannot doubt the gravity of this financial situation and there is a clear picture of the causes, above all the surge of inflation coupled with the increasing demand on services, especially social care.
“We have been acutely aware that post-pandemic spending would be tight and local government would feature further down on the priority list.
“We know the Chancellor has some very difficult decisions to make and we look to him and Michael Gove, back as Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to consider the pressures we face in Kent and to work with us to best safeguard the services that matter most to people and which support the most vulnerable.”
Mr Oakford continued: “That said, we do need to be realistic about the prospect of large-scale support and we must intensify our approach across the board to mitigate the effects of the current economic climate.
“What that looks like is a combination of resisting pressures, managing down our costs and having to make some tough and painful decisions.
“Soaring inflation and increasing demand pressures are affecting our delivery, from home care to road maintenance, waste disposal to home to school transport. Increased energy and fuel costs are hitting frontline services, from staff travelling to provide domiciliary care to increased energy prices in social care settings.
“Around £1.3billion of our annual budget is subject to inflationary pressures. We are, of course, seeing the same level of increase on our costs as residents and we are currently experiencing £70million of unbudgeted inflationary and demand-led pressures this year alone.”