Turbulent times leave councillors facing difficult decisions

Money

Continued economic turbulence means councillors face some tough choices to overcome a £5 million gap in the council's finances over the next two financial years, while investing in its key priorities.

Continued economic turbulence means Canterbury City Council’s councillors are facing some very tough choices as the authority works to overcome a £5 million gap in its finances over the next two financial years while investing in the council’s key priorities.

A report to the council’s Policy Committee, which is due to meet on Wednesday 10 November, asks councillors for permission to consult the public on measures designed to overcome a pandemic-induced £3 million drop in annual income in 2022/23 while maintaining vital frontline services, rebuilding the council’s savings for a rainy day known as reserves and investing an extra:

  • £250,000 a year in the grounds maintenance contract responsible for picking up litter and emptying bins on the coast and in the council’s parks and open spaces as well as grass cutting and maintaining sports pitches
  • £190,000 a year to ramp up planning enforcement activity
  • £88,000 a year in waste collections especially around the collection of food and garden waste
  • £32,000 a year in street cleaning
  • £30,000 a year to help unlock larger pots of money that are available to help combat climate change and its effects

In terms of capital spending on things like buildings or big pieces of equipment, the report proposes that the council invests:

  • £4.1m in 2022/23 and £4m in 2023/2024 in its leisure centres especially at Kingsmead in Canterbury
  • £1m in 2022/23 for Canenco to replace the vehicles currently used by Serco to deliver the grounds maintenance contract as they reach the end of their useful life
  • £40,000 in air quality monitoring equipment
  • £15,000 in conservation projects across the district
  • £100,000 for repairs to footbridges

Chief Executive Colin Carmichael said: “The pandemic has hit us in the pocket really hard especially when it comes to property and parking income because successive councils have, wisely, not wanted us to simply rely on our small share of the council tax we collect to pay for vital services.

“As we have time and again in previous years, we will be able to find substantial savings of around £3 million over the next two years by using digital technology to help us be more efficient, make us more accessible 24/7 and radically change how we work to put serving our customers even more firmly at the heart of what we deliver so the service they receive is second to none in the public or private sector.

“But as the figures show, that will not be enough and there are some very tough choices ahead around prioritising the services we provide that, unlike the vast majority of councils in the county, we have not yet had to face.

“Our current Corporate Plan as agreed by councillors calls on us to deliver the basics brilliantly and that will continue to be our focus.

“Of course, as with every budget, this draft contains a number of necessary assumptions including the fact there will be no further lockdowns or restrictions that lead to the closure of shops and leisure activities and that the current increase in inflation, otherwise known as the cost of living, is a temporary one.

“If either of those assumptions prove to be wrong, our challenges increase.”

The report to councillors proposes increasing Canterbury City Council’s portion of council tax by 2.29% which represents a rise of £4.95 a year for an average Band D property which equates to 9.5p per week or just over a penny a day.

While Canterbury City Council sends out council tax bills, it only keeps just over 11p of every £1 it collects. The lion’s share goes to Kent County Council while Kent Police and the Kent Fire and Rescue Service also take a share.

On top of operational efficiency savings of £2.5m, the draft budget also targets savings of £500k pa from 2023/24 onwards when the council leaves its current home in Military Road, Canterbury, and £59,000 a year from service reductions in 2022/23 and a further £50,000 a year from 2023/24 including:

  • Closing down the canterbury.co.uk website and Visit Canterbury membership scheme and finding other ways of effectively enticing tourists into the district
  • Reviewing and reducing overall support to outside bodies in line with the council’s reduction in services - in 2022/23 it is proposed those savings will mainly come from removing the subsidies for the Whitstable Oyster Festival and Bayfest

An inflationary increase in fees and charges, with a small number of exceptions, will see an extra £80,000 a year generated in 2022/23 and another £80,000 a year on top of that in 2023/24. 

While the cost of a total of 1,000 spaces in Canterbury’s car parks at Castle Street multi-storey, Holmans Meadow and Station Road West multi-storey, 38% of the city’s total, will stay the same, the draft budget proposes an increase in charges worth £604,000 in 2022/23 and £259,000 in 2023/24.

If the proposed budget is accepted by councillors, Canterbury’s most-popular car parks at Watling Street and Queningate will see their hourly rate increase from £2.80 to £3.20 in 2022/23 and from £3.20 to £3.50 in 2023/24.

The cost of using the city’s Park and Ride service at New Dover Road, Sturry Road and Wincheap will remain at £4 per day.

Whitstable’s most-popular car parks at Gorrell Tank and Keams Yard would see the hourly rate increase from £2.50 to £2.80 between April and September and from £1.50 to £1.60 between October and March in 2022/23. The April to September hourly rate would then increase to £3.10 in 2023/24.

Herne Bay’s most popular car parks at Neptune’s Arm, Reculver Towers and Reculver Country Park would see the April to September hourly rate increase from £1.80 to £2.10 in 2022/23 while the October to March hourly rate will increase from £1.40 to £1.50.

In 2023/24, the hourly rates for those car parks in April to September would increase to £2.30.

The William Street, Market Street and Beach Street car parks would see the hourly rate increase from £1.40 to £1.50 in 2022/23 with no further changes planned in 2023/24.

As part of the proposals, the cost of off-street parking permits will increase by 9% in Canterbury and 7% in Whitstable and Herne Bay.

It is also proposed to create an overnight off-street EV permit for residents at £100 a year.

Deputy Chief Executive Tricia Marshall said: “While we recognise increasing parking charges is a very hard sell, they make up more than 25% of the council’s income and are vital to the council’s financial wellbeing - and our ability to deliver the services our residents want and need.

“The biggest proposed increases in charges are targeted at our most convenient and often most-congested and polluted car parks, which are popular with visitors from out of the area - and so ensures they contribute to the district’s upkeep.

“The data from our ANPR parking system shows people are prepared to pay that little bit more to park closer to the shops and attractions.

“Meanwhile, increases elsewhere have been limited to keep parking as affordable as possible for residents so they still feel able to support the district’s businesses.”

After being considered by Policy Committee, it is proposed the budget will go to consultation on Monday 15 November with an opportunity to comment until Monday 3 January next year

The Policy Committee will consider the draft budget for the Housing Revenue Account (HRA), the finances behind the council’s housing stock, at its meeting on Monday 6 December with a view to it being consulted on from Wednesday 8 December to Wednesday 5 January next year.

The Policy Committee is due to consider the feedback from both budget consultations at its meeting on Wednesday 9 February next year before making recommendations to Full Council which meets to make its final decision on Monday 21 February.
 

Published: 2nd November 2021