The Kent County Council has reported a £14.56 million overspend for the first quarter of the current financial year. This is the worst outcome for the 21 years that records have been kept and it suggests the Council will be extremely pressed to balance the books over the whole year.
It is becoming clear that KCC, like many other large strategic authorities, is being compelled to set over optimistic budgets. The continual determination of the Tory Government to make local councils the biggest public sector victims of austerity is causing a crisis in the delivery of decent services.
Some of the overspend is due to the immediate influx of additional migrant children. The official view is that these increased costs will be met by Central Government. They will not. Another area where a Government shortfall in support is hitting KCC is in the delivery of the concessionary bus fare scheme. Overall, and symptomatic of the whole problem, is that KCC, like many other authorities, simply cannot meet the growing demand for adult care services. This could be criticised as poor budgeting but it is a level of demand that is notoriously difficult to estimate. KCC is theoretically going through an experiment in transforming services and demand is meant to have fallen. Unfortunately, too, this doesn’t seem to be working.
This is not all the fault of the Tories on KCC, but they need to be open and honest with the public, acknowledge the crisis, and make it clear that this really goes back to the Chancellor of Exchequer, George Osborne.