Children were at the heart of discussions during this year’s budget setting meeting for Medway.
On Thursday, 20 February, councillors met for the annual budget meeting to discuss and agree on how the local authority would spend its funding for the 2020/21 financial year.
Medway Council has more than 70 services, providing support and opportunities to residents living across the five towns. Council tax funds are used towards paying for local services for residents, such as schools, waste collections and roads.
Medway continues to offer its residents the lowest council tax rate in Kent, despite the difficult decision made during Thursday’s budget meeting to increase council tax to ensure the council can continue to provide a range of high-quality services for its residents. Council tax will increase by 3.994 per cent. This equates to an increase of just £1.09 a week and £56.53 for the year for a band D home, compared with the 2019/20 financial year.
Increased funds to support Medway’s children
During the meeting, full council set out its commitment to support all Medway children by allocating an additional £6million+ to Children’s Services for the year ahead. This brings the service’s budget to £46million to ensure that every child is given the support they need to thrive, be healthy and learn well throughout their childhood, and that those who find themselves in the care system are given the help and protection they need and deserve.
This strengthens Medway’s commitment to improve the vital service it delivers and will further bolster the council’s ongoing recruitment drive of permanent social workers, bringing down the costs of temporary agency staff and helping to reduce turnover. This will provide vulnerable children with the stable support they need from social care workers. The council is also developing the skills of its children’s services workforce through the implementation of the Signs of Safety Programme.
Speaking about the council’s commitment to supporting Medway’s children, Leader Cllr Alan Jarrett, said: “Supporting Medway’s children is our top priority and the additional funding I have allocated to the service will help ensure each child’s needs are met, as well as help us give greater support to our most vulnerable children.
“More children, through no fault of their own, find themselves in the care system and it’s imperative that we have the right resources in place to help ensure every child is given the opportunity to reach their full potential.”
Caring for Medway’s older residents
Medway also set out its commitment to support its older residents with full council agreeing to increase the Adults Social Care budget by more than £2million to a total of £68million. This will help the council support the increased number of older people who need its support.
The budget includes funding of £55.5million to support people with care and support needs, of which around £17.2m will support older people and around £38.3m will fund care and support for working age adults.
Medway Council is committed to making the best use of its available resources to provide a high-quality adult social care service. Cllr Jarrett said: “Although supporting Medway’s children is our top priority, we are also committed to giving back to our older residents and delivering a top-quality service to vulnerable adults. We continue to innovate within our Adult Social Care service and invest in areas which promote independence and help people to live longer in the community.”
One example of Medway Council’s ongoing support to its vulnerable adults is through its investment in the Shared Lives service. Similar to foster carers, shared lives carers are paid to share their home, family and community life with an adult who is not able to live on their own, giving them independence and a support network.
Keeping Medway moving
Medway Council is responsible for the road network within Rainham, Gillingham, Chatham, Rochester and Strood. This year’s budget dedicated an additional £1.5million to help maintain Medway’s highways.
The unitary authority looks after more than 800km of roads, 26,000 street columns and lights, 34,000 drainage gullies, as well as crash barriers, bollards and road signage. The highways budget, is used to maintain existing roads, pavements and street furniture, including lighting, as well as carry out repairs including potholes and road barriers.
Commenting on the council’s decision to invest more in Medway’s roads, Cllr Jarrett said: “We recognise the importance of maintaining and improving Medway’s road network including the Medway Tunnel, especially with the pressures of building more homes and consequently an increase in vehicles using our roads.
“I was delighted with the news at the end of last year that our bid for funding to significantly improve road and rail connections in and around the Hoo Peninsula was successful. The £170million grant from the Housing Infrastructure Fund will ensure that the necessary infrastructure is in place for Medway residents before preparing plans to develop more than 10,000 new homes on the peninsula.”
Protecting Medway’s open spaces
Last year Medway’s full council declared a climate change emergency and the council has been busy working on plans to support this movement. In October 2019, an electric bus was trialled in a bid to find ways to tackle concerns around climate change and to advocate smart technology.
Medway Council is also looking into ways to build on some of its existing environmentally friendly projects. Medway currently has almost 6,000 LED lanterns being used on street lighting across the five towns. The council is currently reviewing increasing the number of LED street lights due to their energy efficiency and to support its work around climate change.
The council has highlighted the importance of protecting its green spaces to help reduce the impact of climate change. Medway has the equivalent of 13.3 Hyde Parks and during the budget meeting, the Leader expressed his commitment to protect and maintain Medway’s parks and country parks.
Cllr Jarrett said: “While we continue to meet our challenging housing target, we are also focussed on protecting Medway’s much-loved open spaces. Residents will see more than one million bulbs flower in our grass verges over the coming months, and our ongoing work to maintain Medway’s parks and grass verges are helping towards our ambition of reducing emissions.”
Each year 70,000 bedding plants are planted across Medway’s parks and open spaces and 2,100 sites of shrubs in parks and highways are pruned. £3.6million has been set aside for the 2020/21 financial year for this work to continue to not only keep Medway an attractive place for its residents and visitors, but to protect the environment we live in.
Concluding on Medway’s budget setting meeting, the Leader of Medway Council, Cllr Alan Jarrett, said: “We strive to provide high-quality services for our residents, whilst giving value for money and I am pleased that we can continue to do that with the lowest council tax in Kent. This is down to the hard-work and commitment of council staff and that is why we took the decision to increase pay by two per cent.
“We are an innovative council and are regularly reviewing the ways we work to best meet our residents’ needs and deliver sustainable improvements. Our work over the next year will continue to focus on three key areas: the people, the place and Medway’s growth. However, I have stressed that our top priority is supporting Medway’s children; they are the future of Medway and deserve our support to have the best start in life.”