Only about half of us know what local government actually does, according to an Ipsos survey conducted last April, and many of us take very much for granted the public services we use and enjoy every day – until they go wrong or have to be reduced, or even withdrawn.
From potholes to public health the range of responsibilities in the hands of Kent County Council (KCC) is immense and so is the cost - £1.2 billion net in the current year, just for the day-to-day services. For the coming 10 years they will spend a further £1.7 billion in capital costs for large projects such as highways and other infrastructure.
When Jeremy Hunt delivered his Autumn statement a couple of weeks ago the press headlines were about the effect on the pound in our pockets. For our local government officers however, it was about much more. I contacted the leader of KCC Roger Gough, to ascertain his views on the announcements and the effect they are likely to have on the services his Council provides to the people of my constituency of Maidstone & The Weald, and indeed all of the 1.58 million people KCC serves across Kent.
Roger welcomed certain measures, particularly the additional £1bn grant funding for social care in 2023/24, which will rise to £1.7bn in 2024/25. This runs alongside a £26bn package of support aimed directly at helping constituents with the cost-of-living and underpins the measures for local government. These include the continuation of the Energy Price Guarantee, extending the Household Support fund and new Cost of Living Payments for people on disability benefits. As an aside, for readers of InYourArea, I was pleased with the decision to uprate benefits in line with inflation of 10.1%, and the National Living Wage rise.
But we are living in tough times and there is still a funding gap that needs to be bridged one way or another, if KCC are to fulfill their statutory obligations. We are already seeing the funding implications on key local bus services, with the withdrawal of several services including the 5A from Staplehurst to Cranbrook and the 78 from Barming to Maidstone. Impact is also being felt in adult education and childcare services, to name just two other vital areas.
Part of my role as a Member of Parliament is to be a conduit for the County Council to connect with central government when needs be, and this is just such a time. Kent MPs and their teams are meeting with KCC again this week to discuss longer term solutions to acute funding issues.
The council has challenging decisions to make on spending and services, but I remain confident that working together we will find a way through this economic storm for the people of Kent.