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The Elephant in the Room: Folkestone and Hythe Council Tax 2020-21

February 20, 2020 11:28 AM
Originally published by Folkestone and Hythe Liberal Democrats

African Elephant (Bernard DUPONT from FRANCE / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0))At the Folkestone and Hythe Full Council meeting on 20th February the Liberal Democrat group of Tim Prater and Gary Fuller declined to support the Conservative budget, both abstaining in the vote on General Fund Budget and Council Tax 2020/21 which increased average Band D council tax by £5.04 (1.91%) to £268.38.

Speaking on the Council Tax increase at the meeting, Tim Prater said:

"There is a lot to be impressed by in this budget. I'd like to commend the work of members and officers, especially Charlotte Spendley, on getting this budget together. I'd also to thank Charlotte Spendley, Tim Madden and others for the support they have offered to me prior to today's meeting.

"Setting a balanced budget at this time with massive ongoing pressure from central government on local council budgets is increasingly hard to do. It's not just the slow strangling of Councils for cash - although that is true. Its the lack of forward information and detail for the future which really harms the ability of Councils to plan.

"But there is an elephant in the room.

"We should talk about the elephant.

"This Council has almost the highest District element of the Council Tax of any district in Kent.

"If this budget passes this evening, then our Band D Council tax for the District element excluding special expenses is £254.16 per household, or £268.38 including the Special Expense of the Folkestone Parks and Gardens Charity.

"That's £61.92 more than Dover are planning this year. (Band D C/T £192.24 2020/21)

"£34.46 more than Sevenoaks are planning this year. (Band D C/T £219.96 2020/21)

"£16.02 more than Thanet are planning this year. (Band D C/T £238.14 £ 2020/21)

"I'll be fair: its not actually the highest. Maidstone will be voting next week on setting a Band D Council Tax of £265.59. However that is still lower than our figure if you include in the Special Expense.

"These are big differences.

"Now, I'm not anti-elephant. But we can't ignore it. We need to talk about the elephant.

"We need to talk, honestly, over the course of the next year as to how we got to having one of the highest district council tax in Kent. We need to do a full comparison with others.

"We need to look at what the trend on that will be in future. Are we comfortable having the highest Council Tax in Kent long term? If not, what do we plan to do about it?

"It may be that after discussion, we come to accept our elephant. But we really need to talk about it, and understand it. Our Council Tax proposals never talk about it, or discuss it. Our budget report this evening doesn't mention comparisons to other Kent authorities - anywhere.

"We should start by being honest with ourselves and voters about this. It may be that the only way this Council can possibly deliver the services local people want is with one of the highest Council Tax in Kent. And if that's the case, then we should be clear about that. But lets be straightforward with local residents, and ourselves.

"And as we are looking at a large, systemic change, I've got no proposals for this year to amend the budget. You can't sensibly do that that tonight. You don't deal with the elephant in the room by trimming its nails.

"So I won't vote against or seek to amend this budget tonight, but I'm afraid I'm not supporting it either."