Medway’s council tax will remain Kent’s lowest under proposals to keep it frozen for a second year.

The charge for an average Band ‘D’ property will remain at £1,119.15 a year – around £130 cheaper than anywhere else in the county – if the proposals are agreed.

The council tax freeze forms part of Medway’s plan for a balanced budget, which will go before Cabinet next week.

The budget proposals for 2012/13 have had to take into account a shortfall of £14.3million from increased demands and a reduction in government grant of 8.3 per cent reduction – following an unprecedented cut in government funding last year of 11.9% and an overall deficit of £23.5million that had to be found.

In addition, the government has stated that extra cuts to funding will take place for two more years until 2014. And it is widely expected there will be more reductions after this date.

The proposals for next year’s budget aim to safeguard frontline services while proposing where savings can be made.

They reflect the fact that staff are one year through a three year incremental pay freeze – saving the council £1.6million a year.

And they take into account that the council’s Better For Less efficiency programme is on target to make cumulative savings of almost £14million over three years.

As well as proposing a budget to fund all the vital services the council provides – such as schools, highways and weekly waste collections – the proposals include funding for numerous other important initiatives.

Medway’s 19 Sure Start children centres are safeguarded and an extra £2million is being provided on last year’s budget for children in care.

In addition, the area’s libraries, parks, greenspaces and festivals are also provided for in next year’s budget proposals.

Some savings need to be made, though, to cover the huge £14.3million hole cut in the council’s finances from Government cuts and increased demands. The draft budget in November had identified savings that reduced this gap to £6.2million.

These additional proposals to close the gap include proposed savings made to the council’s supporting people budget, the government programme for funding, planning and monitoring housing related support services. This reflects the fact that there is now no longer a dedicated funding stream for this from government, and that council funding overall is significantly reduced.

A review of Special Education Needs (SEN) transport will also take place, with officers examining all individual journeys over £40 a day – including those by taxi – to see if savings can be made while ensuring transport arrangements continue.

Elsewhere, the council will continue to take away bulky waste for residents – such as furniture – but, in line with other Kent authorities, proposes to only waive the fee for one item a year, charging £17.50 for each after this. Many councils charge for removing all bulky waste.

Councils are mainly funded through a combination of council tax, grants paid by central government (mainly from business rates) and locally raised inciome from charges

The total proposed revenue budget for next year is £332million of which £127million is government grant for schools.

Medway Council traditionally receives less than other similar sized unitary authorities in funding, but ministers have not taken this into account yet again, and have failed to make a proportionate cut in Medway’s government funding for next year.

This means the council faces tough decisions as it has even less money to provide services than many other local authorities in England.
This is despite the fact that Medway Council has been continuously judged as providing value for money.

Cllr Alan Jarrett, the Deputy Leader and Portfolio Holder for Finance, said: “The council received an unprecedented cut to its funding last year, and we face another huge reduction this year.

“These cut are imposed on Medway and its residents by central government, who do not take into account the fact that we are a value for money authority that receives a lot less in funding from Whitehall and has the cheapest council tax in Kent.

“We seem to be getting punished for the fact that we have manage our finances well over the years and now means we have had to make some very difficult decisions to balance our budget.

“I am pleased to say, though, that these budget proposals will allow us to make efficiencies while maintaining the vital frontline services we provide for our 257,600 residents every day of the year.”

The council’s budget proposals will go before Cabinet on Tuesday, February 14 and will be voted on at Full Council on Thursday, February 23.

How the figures add up

Medway Council’s total formula grant has been cut for a second year running and stands at £78,280million for the 2012/13 financial – or £304 per person – as opposed to £85,402million in the previous 12 months.

This is in stark contrast to other similar sized councils, which still get far more than Medway Council gets in its government grant for the 257,600 residents it serves

For example, Kingston-upon-Hull – which has a population of 271,000 – gets nearly £145million in its grant settlement, which is £534 per person.

And Brighton and Hove, with a population of just 260,000, gets £101million or £390 per person. Plymouth – with 265,334 people – is given £105million – just over £396 a head.