Cllr Burden

The Council has warned of continuing pressures on its finances, despite being able to set a balanced budget for the coming year.

Last night (Tuesday) members voted to approve the budget for 2024/25. This includes drawing down £2.07 million from working balances. This would see them fall below their recommended minimum level of £5.25 million, by 31 March next year.

Members were warned action would be needed to reduce costs and increase revenue. This is to prevent the council finding itself in a position where it had limited capacity to respond, to any significant events or emergencies during the year. Resulting in the possibility of not being able to set a balanced budget for 2025/26.

Cllr John Burden, Leader of the Council, explained that the pressure on the council’s finances was largely driven by factors outside of its control.

He said: “The issue causing us the most concern is the cost of providing temporary accommodation for those who have, often for reasons outside of their own control, found themselves homeless.

“Our spending on this has increased by 661% over the past four years as increasing numbers of families find themselves unable to pay their mortgage or rent as the cost-of-living crisis has hit hard.

“In the last financial year, our expenditure on temporary accommodation came in at £1.8 million against Government funding of £408,000.

“Our housing team is working on some imaginative and in some cases ground-breaking measures to reduce our reliance on expensive temporary accommodation, but the demand is such that for next year we are anticipating spending in the region of £2.8 million to find temporary shelter for those who need it.”

Cllr Burden added that higher energy costs was the second major issue facing the authority, particularly when it came to the running of Cascades and Cygnets leisure centres.

He said: “Our contract with the operators of the centres, Gravesham Community Leisure Ltd, means we have to meet increases in the unit cost of utilities for Cascades and Cygnets.

“In the last financial year that saw us provide additional support in the region of £500,000 for the two centres, although this is expected to fall slightly to £420,000 next year – hopefully less if unit prices fall.”

Members agreed to raise the Gravesham element of Council Tax for a Band D property in the Borough by £6.57 to £231.03 for the year 2024/25. This is an increase of under 13 pence a week.

Cllr Burden said: “This is also an increase of less than the maximum we are able to agree before a referendum is needed. It’s also important to note that 58% of properties in Gravesham fall within Council Tax bands A-C, meaning they will be paying less than that.

“Around just 11% of the total Council Tax paid by residents comes to Gravesham Borough Council. Kent County Council receives the largest share, with amounts also going to the Kent Police and Crime Commissioner and Kent Fire and Rescue Service. In areas covered by parish councils, they will also charge their own rate.”

He added that the budget for the coming year had been developed to continue to respond to growing demand for services in a number of areas. Including maintain services important to the local community, while demonstrating financial awareness of the challenges ahead.

It includes:

  • A continued focus on improving the attractiveness and pride in the borough. Through delivery of the council’s rubbish and recycling services, alongside education and enforcement activity to prevent and target fly-tipping and environmental crimes.
  • The progression of activity, with partners, to support skills development and the creation of jobs in the borough.
  • Projects to reinvigorate our town centres and support local business, including the creation of a Tech Hub flexible working space in the St George’s Shopping Centre, and securing a new operator for Gravesend Borough Market.
  • Ensuring the borough has high quality, accessible leisure facilities to support the health and well-being of residents. This includes the delivery of a new leisure centre and maintenance of play parks and open spaces.
  • Support for the delivery of additional mixed tenure housing units in the borough and action to ensure the quality of private sector housing.
  • Action to reduce the council’s operational carbon footprint. Support the wider borough in taking action to minimise waste and emissions, recognising the wider benefits such action can have on general health and well-being alongside reduced energy costs.
  • Recognition of the necessity for continued financial support and signposting to other partner agencies for residents who need it.

Cllr Burden said: “Over recent months the news has been full of numerous councils of all political persuasions struggling in the face of financial challenges, with a number issuing Section 114 notices - essentially a notification of having run out of funds to deliver anything but the services they are legally obliged to.

“Gravesham is not in that dire position, but we are acutely aware of the work that needs to be done to reduce expenditure and increase revenues to ensure we can set balanced budgets over the coming years.

“This will not be easy and there will be difficult and unpopular decisions that have to be made and made soon. But all of these will be made honestly and with the needs of our communities at the forefront of our minds at all times.”

Published: Wednesday, 21st February 2024