County council's inflation-busting 5% tax rise is approved at heated meeting
Friday 12th February 2021
Kent County Council’s (KCC) controversial plans to raise taxes by 5% from April have been approved, writes Ciaran Duggan.
Hundreds of thousands of residents living in the 12 districts will be expected to pay the above-inflation rate despite hardship faced by families amid Covid.
It comes after more than 50 Conservative councillors voted in favour of the contentious £1.1billion proposals to cover growing pandemic and social care costs at a heated virtual meeting earlier today involving 81 elected members.
KCC’s cabinet member for finance, Cllr Peter Oakford (Con), said the 4.99% hike, for adult social care and general spending, is needed to prevent “brutal” cuts to frontline services.
Explaining there was no “bottomless money pit” at KCC, he said: “I do not want to be in a position to propose a council tax increase, but I have no choice.”
Meanwhile, KCC’s leader Roger Gough (Con) said the council faced a “rainy day” with regards to its financial position for some years to come.
Opposition groups, including Labour, the Liberal Democrats, Greens, angrily contested the decision given the financial impact of Covid on families struggling to pay bills, or, hold down jobs.
County council tax is a major element of the annual council tax bill, which also includes precepts for the police, fire service and district authority.
It means a band C home will have to fork out an extra £60 for the year, rising from £1,200 to £1,260. This equates to £67.50 for a Band D home, growing from £1,351 to £1,418.
KCC’s Labour group leader Dara Farrell said residents would be paying “higher taxes for less services” as his five party members voted against it.
Meanwhile, KCC’s main opposition leader, Cllr Rob Bird (Lib Dem), whose all seven party members also objected, warned the budget “will not stand test of time” given the future uncertainties over the economic impacts of lockdown.
However most Conservative county councillors strongly defended the tax hike, with the fees making up 70% of total spending on key services, including caring for the elderly, pothole repairs and cutting carbon emissions.
Some council tax relief has been offered to the most vulnerable, including a £50 rebate for struggling families and around £10million of emergency grant funding was announced earlier this week, including crowdfunding charities.
Ashford county Cllr Charlie Simkins (Con) said 51% of just under 3,000 Kent residents backed tax rises in a consultation last year, less than 1% of people in the county. He said: “Being responsible, we have no option but to do it.”
Tunbridge Wells county Cllr Sean Holden (Con) added: “I am ready to tell people we must have this rise to keep our services together. Residents need strong answers and political leadership that dares to do the right thing.”
It comes two days after Tory members, including a former cabinet member Cllr Gary Cooke (Maidstone south east), were suspended due to their public opposition to the inflated tax hike.
Residents will have to pay the extra costs at the start of the next financial year on April 1.
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