Published: Friday, 1st March 2024

Our budget has been agreed for the year ahead, with a clear roadmap setting out how we aim to reach financial sustainability in the coming years. 

Medway’s Full Council met on Thursday, 29 February 2024 and approved the plans put before them. This is the first time Medway Council’s budget has been set by the new Labour and Cooperative administration - elected in May 2023. 
In keeping with local authorities across the country, Medway has had to carefully plan its budget to support the area’s 280,000 residents. The Local Government Association recently reported that one in five councils could be in severe financial hardship within two years and a report from the Local Government Information Unit (LGIU) this week reported that more than 50 per cent of councils are saying it is likely they would issue a Section 114 notice in the next five years. Medway has seen a sharp reduction in revenue support grant from government - £85million to around £7million since 2010 – despite a continuing increase in service demand and inflationary costs.

After commissioning independent financial specialists, the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA), to carry out a review of its financial position, we took on board the findings and, as part of a number of measures, submitted a request for Exceptional Financial Support from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities earlier this year. 

Exceptional Financial Support granted

On Thursday, 29 February, the government confirmed that Medway Council was one of 19 councils across England which had been granted permission to extend its borrowing arrangements through a capitalisation direction. This allows us to borrow up to £14.742million to spread revenue costs over more than one year, enabling it to ease mounting budget pressures, put investment in place to return to greater financial stability and avoid the need for a S114 notice. 

Leader of Medway Council, Cllr Vince Maple, said: “This is the first budget I have set as the Leader of Medway Council; we’ve had to take some very difficult decisions and it’s been a huge challenge due to the budget pressures forecast for the year ahead. It was encouraging that CIPFA’s findings did not identify any governance or financial failures, and instead highlighted that the council’s room for manoeuvre was severely limited, outlining that it would not have been possible to set a balanced budget next year without some form of government intervention and support. Seeking exceptional financial support was necessary to protect the services many people in Medway need and value. I am, of course, pleased the government has granted our request. We are now setting out our Strategic Improvement Plan that will map our journey to greater long-term financial sustainability in Medway, and this will be a fully transparent process keeping Medway residents involved and informed in the coming years, as this affects us all."
Requesting exceptional financial support is just one of a number of methods we have had to take to address the challenging financial climate. Although this will help put the council on a more sustainable footing, it has been necessary to explore other funding methods to support its services. 

Council tax

It was also agreed at Full Council to increase council tax by 4.994% for the coming year. Council tax is used to pay for critical services such as social care, waste collections, housing, and highways, as well as libraries and maintaining greenspaces.
Medway’s council tax remains one of the lowest council tax rates in Kent and is still some way below the national average, even despite an increase of 4.994% for 2024/25. This equates to an increase of £1.61 per week for a Band D property, to a total of £1,754.69 per year (excluding amounts charged by parish councils, the Kent Police and Crime Commissioner and Kent Fire and Rescue Service). 
Cllr Maple said: “It is with a heavy heart that we have had to put up council tax, especially being well aware of the struggles many residents face in the current cost of living crisis, but we unfortunately had no choice to help protect the services residents need and value. We appreciate the additional pressure raising council tax will put on our residents, and I would urge residents to check if they are eligible for the financial support available, such as the council tax reduction scheme and household support fund, which we are lobbying the government to continue into the next financial year.”

Protecting services for Medway’s children and adults

Nearly three quarters of Medway’s budget has been allocated to services supporting Medway’s children and adults, demonstrating the council’s commitment to continuing to provide high quality services to support its residents. 
Despite this, both Medway’s children’s and adults’ services continue to face significant financial challenges due to the soaring costs of providing these services alongside increased demand for them. And, despite welcome recent increases in national government funding for these services, it simply is not enough to cover costs. 
Medway’s Adult Social Care received 9,960 new requests for support in 2021-22, which increased to 11,160 in 2022-23. In addition, the number of safeguarding concerns raised to us has increased by 69 per cent over five years (April 2018 and March 2023).
New investment will go into the council’s Adult Social Care services to ensure sufficient staffing and greater use of assistive technology are in place to provide better services to Medway’s most vulnerable adults. 
As well as additional funding for Children’s Services, alongside our continued Improvement Journey, actions such as bringing back Eden House will enable further savings and make the system better for Medway’s younger people.
Cllr Maple added: “We are doing everything we can to protect the services which support our vulnerable children and adults, despite the significant challenges the council faces. These pressures are not unique to Medway. We recognise the importance of supporting these services and have made investment into adult social care to enable the council to recruit skilled care staff to ensure they can best support Medway’s residents and meet the growing demand for help and assistance.
“Children matter in Medway and the council remains committed to providing a broad range of services to support its young people and families, including social care and community-based services such as youth activities and access to early help. These services are often a vital lifeline for many and help our children and young people to receive the specialist support they may need and help them flourish as they grow.”

Maintaining high-quality council services

We provide a huge range of services for local residents. These include social housing for those in need, supporting new parents at family hubs, ensuring the education system is the best it can be, fixing Medway’s streets, maintaining its stunning green spaces and leisure centres, supporting small businesses and helping to grow Medway’s economy. We also have an important role working with local partners to help close health inequalities and ensuring its 63,000 young people get the best start in life through the Child Friendly Medway programme. We have sought where possible to maintain services, including the commitment of the administration to delivering weekly bin collections, providing more opportunities to access green spaces including at Deangate Ridge and improving the prospects of the area’s high streets and town centres. 
However, councillors agreed to a number of changes at the budget meeting, including the closure of the Visitor Information Centre in Rochester, the introduction of car parking charges at country parks, increased parking charges across Medway and the removal of certain concessions for swimming at the council’s leisure centres. In a revision to earlier proposals, recognising the importance of providing opportunities for young people to learn to swim and stay fit, councillors agreed to enable young people to continue to swim for just £1 when accompanied by full paying adults at holiday periods during the year. 
Commenting on the changes, Cllr Maple said: “We have always said we are prepared to take some painful and difficult decisions and tonight we have done just that, to start our journey towards financial sustainability. I would like to thank the residents of Medway for their support, for their recognition of the challenges we face and for their understanding that the decisions we have had to take are unavoidable if we are to make our journey a success.”

The future of Gun Wharf 

Following the discovery of Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (RAAC) at our Gun Wharf headquarters, work has been carried out by council officers to understand the extent and impact on the building. Consideration was given to options for the future location of the council’s main offices and it was concluded that the best value for money would be achieved through a programme of essential repairs and improvements to Gun Wharf, improving building efficiency and occupation levels. Councillors approved the addition to the capital programme of £22million, funded through a combination of borrowing, capital receipts and revenue savings. 
Commenting on the decision, Cllr Maple said: “This proposal means this project can get underway as soon as practicable, making it a clear ambition that plans to reduce use of other buildings for council work, which were being considered before the RAAC discovery, can be bought forward when the council headquarters are re-opened.”

Thanking Medway Council staff

Cllr Vince Maple, on behalf of councillors, thanked Medway Council staff for their hard work in recent years continuing to deliver services despite reduced resources. He said: “It is down to Medway’s incredible staff who, day in, day out, deliver vital public services for our communities across Medway. I have seen first-hand the sheer dedication and passion to enable our vital services to be delivered and often with reducing resources over the years. But saying thank you to our hard-working officers isn’t enough which is why I am pleased we are now investing in a pay system fit for purpose and will be recognising and rewarding loyalty, particularly to staff who have dedicated more than 10 and 15 years of service to delivering Medway’s services. As well as being the right thing to do in recognition of service and as part of our ambition to be recognised as an employer of choice, it is another tool in aiming to get the use of temporary staff, locums and agency staff reduced which is good for service users and good for the council’s finances.”

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