The budget-setting meeting of Kent County Council on 10 February has confirmed a series of damaging cuts to services by the Conservative administration, as well as a rise in council tax.
Travel Saver Pass saved
The Green and Independents Group did, however, manage to secure an amendment to the increasing cost of the Travel Saver Pass for families in receipt of free school meals, which currently costs £150. The amendment proposed by Councillor Rich Lehmann (Green, Swale East) and Councillor Steve Campkin (Green, Ashford South) will keep the cost of the pass at £150 and prevent a £30 increase for families who can least afford it.
“To me, this was the most unnecessary cut. To be adding £30 to the cost of the pass for some of the poorest families in Kent in order to make a saving equivalent to just 0.004% of the annual budget, shows just how out of touch some of our Conservative councillors are with what is going on in the UK in 2022. I was delighted that they were able to accept that this was a cut too far, and will now reverse this price increase.”Councillor Rich Lehmann
Disabled Companion Pass
Another amendment, which we fully supported, related to the Disabled Companion Pass proposed by the LibDem Group and the only other amendment passed.
No electric buses
But that was where the good news ended as a whole raft of amendments by the opposition parties in an attempt to reverse the most damaging cuts were rejected by the Conservative Group. Amendments put forward by the Green and Independents included:
- an increase in the number of Community Wardens
- a programme to work with communities to deliver a fleet of multi-use electric minibuses
- to reverse the £2.21m cuts to subsidised bus services across Kent
This last amendment was proposed by Councillor Mark Hood (Green, Tonbridge) and Councillor Mike Baldock (Swale Independents, Swale West).
The bus subsidy cut is poorly timed, given that we are waiting to see what additional funding will be provided by the Bus Back Better strategy. Cuts to bus subsidies and increases in the price of the Travel Saver and the 16+ Travel Saver will push residents and pupils back into cars, while our cycling infrastructure remains inadequate and cycle schemes have just been shelved. We are heading in the wrong direction.
“The irony is that just as we are hoping for a Bus Back Better cash injection into the industry which will potentially prime the system, enabling improved timetables and cheaper fares to lead the way to long-term sustainability, the Conservative Group has been pressured by continuing austerity from their Westminster counterparts into a proposal which threatens to deliver an omnibus version of the Beeching Cuts. The danger is that without a more generous funding settlement this years cuts will be followed by many more.”Councillor Mark Hood
Travel Saver to cost more
The Green and Independents also supported amendments which opposed increasing the price of the Travel Saver from £370 to £450. A huge rise that will lead to more polluting cars making the school run, increasing congestion in our towns. The Travel Saver cost just £50 when it was introduced in 2007.
More Kent residents pushed into poverty
We opposed the £2.3m cut to the Kent Homelessness contract, and supported amendments to extend the contract. The termination of the contract will result in estimated additional costs of up to £8m for District Councils and other agencies.
Ongoing austerity has taken approximately £750m of our county’s funding since 2010. Along with last year’s removal of the £20 a week Universal Credit uplift, households are facing a triple whammy of increased food costs, energy bills rising by an eye-watering 50% and a hike in National Insurance; all of which will push more Kent residents into poverty.
Cuts bite harder
This year’s budget has delivered cuts of £38m, and the three-year medium-term plan is set to reduce spending by a further £100m so the cuts are only going to bite harder in coming years. We believe that proper investment in local services and putting local government at the heart of a green recovery should be the way forward for the Council, but we are being failed by the Conservative Members of Parliament representing our county who are continuing to sanction the cuts in funding that have led to the harshest budget cuts yet. Their decision to support an increase in National Insurance alone is going to cost KCC £1.6m.
Speaking up for the opposition
All of this puts this county authority, along with others across the country, in an impossible position; forcing us into raising taxes and cutting services, charging more for less!
This is not fair on our officers, our staff, or those of us in opposition parties desperately trying to hold back the tide of poverty. It is not fair on the people of Kent, and it is not fair on this administration who have to publicly defend the indefensible and direct us away from the cause of the problems and towards treating the symptoms.
“It was said during the meeting that today is not a day for theatre. We disagree; theatre is all we’ve got. As futile as our gestures may be, we are here to speak up for the majority of people that are affected by this draconian, ideological and unfair rule, the 56% of people who voted for opposition parties in 2019, and the majority of people who feel so disenfranchised they did not even vote.
“Therefore, with sincere apologies to the council’s officers that have worked so hard on this budget and, while gratefully acknowledging the acceptance of two amendments from the opposition parties, which nevertheless amount to nothing more than tinkering around the edges and kicking the can down the road in an attempt at damage limitation, we regretfully took a stand against this government’s unfair austerity measures and voted against this budget.”Councillor Steve Campkin
Editor’s note: After the 2021 elections, KCC has 62 Conservative councillors, seven Labour, six LibDems, four Green and two Independents.