Huge challenges for 2018 from cuts and Brexit

December 31, 2017

“It is impossible to look to the new year with anything other than deep foreboding.” So concluded the Green Party’s Kent County Councillor, Martin Whybrow, at the last full council meeting of 2017. He had set out his fears for front-line services as a result of further severe budget pressures, combined with the likely impact of Brexit on Kent’s residents, businesses and infrastructure.

The next KCC budget will be finalised in February but it is already clear that Socially Necessary Bus Services, Children’s Centres (again), the voluntary sector and public health services are among the areas in the firing line.

There have already been significant cuts to services due to more than five years of annual, sharply reduced funding from central government. Often this has been felt in the form of ever shrinking contracts, with providers being asked to do more with less funding, worsened by rising demand, in part through population growth and changing demographics.

“The next budget will be the toughest yet and there is no sign of any let up,” comments Martin. Central government has recently announced that councils can increase council tax by up to 2.99% without incurring a referendum (with a potential 3% on top of this for additional social care funding) but this is a woeful compromise.

Martin (above) comments: “This is typical central government dishonesty – cut and cut funding for local councils and then hit the ball into their court with the offer of an inadequate increase of a blatantly broken system of taxation that many residents are already struggling to pay and which will hit the poorest hardest.”

Despite the potential for greater revenue, even the Tory head of the Local Government Association (LGA) has warned that councils faced a near-£6bn funding black hole by 2020 due to central government cuts that put vital services at risk.

Meanwhile the appallingly distracted, dysfunctional central government will be embroiled in further shambolic Brexit negotiations. Kent is on the front-line in the sense that it sees around 80% of road-hauled freight on its roads and through the port of Dover.

Any form of hard Brexit that means custom delays will cause gridlock, with Highways England planning contingencies that will see significant partial closures of the M20. The impact on labour for Kent’s businesses, including farming, will also be severe. It is these sorts of tangible issues that explain why the Green Party is calling for a referendum on the final settlement.

Added to these factors will be continued low wages and the rising cost of living (including another steep hike in rail fares from the start of the year), increased homelessness, and fewer safety nets for those that need help, partly due to further cuts and changes to welfare.

Meanwhile, most sweepingly, there is a complete lack of vision, new ideas and innovation from the county’s leaders for tackling the environmental, societal, workplace and transport challenges of the next few years.

“For anyone sitting on the fence, I’d argue that now is the time to get involved, to help bring about real, urgently needed change in our politics and our communities,” concludes Martin. “The Green Party has always been the voice for equality, fairness and compassion but we need more members, more supporters and more activists – no matter what skills and time you can contribute.”

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