County budget comes with a health warning and biggest rate rise without a referendum

    County Hall Maidstone

    Kent County Council is bracing itself for a hard year ahead after publishing its budget on Monday amid warnings it was due to be ‘the most difficult yet.’

    With a key government grant being reduced by around a third, combined with a rise in social care costs leaves a shortfall of £128 million, means tough decisions will have to be made at the council, which said ‘significant savings’ needed to be found in order to make up for the shortfall.

    The draft budget is for the 2016/17 financial year.

    Alongside cuts to expenditure, KCC will also be looking to raise £11m in revenues through a 1.99 per cent increase in council taxes, the maximum amount without triggering a referendum.

    A further two per cent rise in council tax is also proposed through the use of its social care precept, a new levy which was announced in the government’s autumn statement.

    In a statement released alongside the budget, a KCC spokesman said the introduction of the new levy was necessary to tackle the increasing burden of social care.

    He said: “Social care budgets are under particular pressure due to rising demand for services for both vulnerable adults and older people.

    “There are also rising costs from increases in prices from care providers – not least in response to the new National Living Wage which will apply from April.”

    Combined, these increases will see the amount of council tax taken by the county council on an average Band C property rise to £1,007.60, up from £968.88 currently, raising an additional £22 million in total.

    This is before other authorities, such as the Police, Fire & Rescue, districts, parish and town councils set their own share of council tax as part of the overall bill.

    Kent County Council currently accounts for around 73 per cent of the council tax take.

    Capital investment will fall by £20 million to £708 million next year, meaning less money has been earmarked for spending on infrastructure projects such as new school buildings and roads.

    The town has secured some minor spending commitments from KCC, such as on the Southborough Hub and the Tunbridge Wells Cultural Hub, to the sum of £115,000 and £2 million respectively.

    However, the majority of the focused spending has been earmarked for projects elsewhere in the county, such as a £12.4 million investment in the Expansion East Kent Regional Growth Fund.