Full council approves Borough‘s budget for the coming financial year

Full council approves Borough‘s budget for the coming financial year

Full council approves Borough‘s budget for the coming financial year

 Published: 23-Feb-2021

A £2.2 million package to support the post-Covid recovery of the local economy has been announced as part of Gravesham Borough Council‘s budget plans for 2021-22.

The budget for the coming financial year was approved at a full meeting of the Council on 23 February, at which it was confirmed the authority has recorded a £2 million deficit as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Unveiling the economic support package, council Leader Cllr John Burden, said: “Our local businesses have suffered terribly in the past year with many – particularly those in the hospitality and retail sectors – being required to close their doors for many months.

“The council has worked hard to distribute Government support grants as quickly and efficiently as possible, and has kept paperwork and red tape for local business owners to a minimum. But that support will only have helped businesses through the immediate crisis.

“This £2.2 million package will support the long term recovery of the local economy and help our businesses get back on their feet as Covid restrictions are lifted.“

Support for business will involve short term measures to help with the immediate recovery and longer term schemes.

These include:

  • Grants for businesses severely impacted by Covid-19 and assessed as being of strategic importance to the Borough and/or able to demonstrate a significant contribution to employment, training, wellbeing or culture.
  • Grants for licence holders for taxis, licensed premises and Members’ Clubs in Gravesham to offset renewal of fees for 2021/22.
  • Adaptation grants to help businesses respond to the impact of Covid-19, for example, to help moves to online trading, responses to changed consumer patterns, digital skills training, transition to low carbon business activity, etc.
  • A business start-up grant scheme.
  • Procurement workshops for local businesses on how to work effectively with the council and the wider public sector in supplying goods and services, influencing the impact of the council’s procurement activity on the local economy.
  • An incentive scheme encouraging the take up of vacant retail units in Gravesend town centre
  • Strengthening of the council‘s apprenticeship and work experience programmes, and putting in place new career graded posts
  • Making up to 25% of the council‘s apprenticeship levy funds available to other local employers, helping to boost apprenticeship numbers within the Borough.
  • Additionally, the council will be part of the Government‘s Kickstart youth employment programme, offering more than 30 roles for local young people across various departments, and will be continuing its apprenticeship programme.

Cllr Burden also reaffirmed the commitment made in last year‘s budget to building a new leisure centre for the Borough.

He said: “What the last year has shown beyond doubt is the importance of leisure facilities for the long-term physical and mental wellbeing of local people.

“We have backed GCLL, the leisure trust that runs our Cascades and Cygnets leisure centres, with around £1 million of financial support to get see them through their long periods of closure during the various lockdowns and reduced facilities in the short time they have been allowed to be open.

“Longer term, we remain committed to building a new leisure centre for the Borough, and early work and studies towards that have been going on despite the other demands on officers‘ time caused by our response to the pandemic.“

He also announced a further investment in additional street cleaning equipment to add to the six figure sum invested in the operation in the past 12 months.

Cllr Burden also outlined the council‘s response to the pandemic and the impact it has had on the authority‘s finances.

“The council, like others around the country was called on to put in place measures to support the most vulnerable in our society from day one of the first lockdown, including providing practical and emotional support to the clinically extremely vulnerable and ensuring the homeless were found safe places of refuge,“ he said.

“At the same time, we have maintained our essential front line services, such as household waste and recycling collections and emergency repairs to our tenants‘ homes.

“The expenditure needed to mobilise those support services at such short notice, coupled with significant loss of income from areas such as unpaid council tax and business rates, and loss of income from areas such as The Woodville, Gravesend Borough Market and car parking, sees us facing a loss of just over £2 million for the year, even allowing for grants from central Government which do not come close to covering our outgoings and loss of revenue.“

However, Cllr Burden added the council found itself in a better position than many other local authorities, some of whom would be presenting budgets for the coming year that would see them having to make cuts in services.

He said: “Last year, because of many years of sound and prudent financial management, I was able to present a balanced financial strategy for the next 10 years. However, from a balanced 10-year Medium Term Financial Strategy, we now find ourselves facing a £4.8 million negative impact on that between now and 2029/30.

“However, our essential services will not be affected by the losses we face as a result of the pandemic and we have a number of years in which we can work to minimise any impact.“

Cllr Burden also outlined how the council had made progress on last year‘s budget pledges, despite the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic.

He said: “We have made good progress on building hundreds of new council-owned homes, with work starting on new sites and plans in place or being developed for even more.

“Planning permission has been granted for The Charter development in Gravesend town centre, with work expected to start on site imminently.

“And we are making good progress on the road to becoming a carbon neutral Borough by 2030.“

The budget meeting also confirmed the Borough‘s council tax for the coming year, which for a Band D property will rise from £208.08 to £213.03, a rise of £4.95 or less than 10p a week. More than 60% of properties in Gravesham fall within Band D or below.

Cllr Burden said: “We know that families across the Borough face financial hardship as a result of the events of the past year and that any increase in bills is unwelcome for them.

“To help those who need it the most, we intend to ensure that residents eligible to receive Localised Support for Council Tax (LSCT) during the coming year will not have to pay the £4.95 rise in the Gravesham Borough Council element on this year‘s bill, by providing them with a £5 credit on their council tax account.

“However, the services we provide have to be paid for and that has to be set against a backdrop of 10 years of reductions in funding for local councils from central Government and continuing uncertainty over future Government funding.

“Only about 12% of the council tax residents pay comes to Gravesham. The majority goes to Kent County Council, with other amounts going to Kent Fire and Rescue Service, Kent Police and parish councils.

“My message to all residents is, if you find yourself struggling to pay your council tax, don‘t bury your head in the sand and hope the problem will go away. The chances are it will only get worse.

“Talk to us, sooner rather than later. There are ways we can help you.“

 Last updated: 09-Apr-2021

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