Kent County Council Draft Budget – it ain’t good news

On Thursday Feb 10, 2022, Kent County Council [KCC] will be setting it’s budget.

But before we begin, we wish to draw your attention to a matter which needs raising.

The Corporate Director responsible for the proposed draft budget 2022/23, is Zena Cooke [pictured]. She is the Corporate Director for Finance & s151 Officer, so is responsible for KCC’s money.

In August 2020 we wrote about Zena Cooke,

We asked the question:

Are Kent County Council Finances in Safe Hands?

Prior to her arrival at KCC , Zena worked for the London Borough of Tower Hamlet [LBTH] as Chief Financial Officer, between Sept 2015 and Oct 2018.

It has come to light that during her time there the AP1 Voucher forms, an alternative payment process reserved for grants and exceptional one-off requirements and not day-to-day business, was being abused at LBTH, according to the East End Enquirer who have run not one but two blog post, and supported with evidence by LBTHs auditors Price Waterhouse Coopers.

What is AP1 Voucher?

AP1 vouchers are a legitimate money transfer. For property purchases, LBTH use this payment option to transfer funds to solicitors to hold the money in their accounts ready for completion day, which is agreed between the parties. The payment is generally made a few days in advance so that the funds are ready to be transferred on completion day. 

The use of AP1 vouchers that bypassed the normal financial processes by the administration, indicates  ‘poor governance and financial management’ between 2013/14 & 2020/21 at LBTH. Remember, Zena was Chief Financial Officer between Sept 2015 and Oct 2018. So the abuse of the system happened on her watch.

What did she know?

Did she authorize AP1 Voucher use as Chief Financial Officer?

Did she leave LBTH with a non disclosure agreement and handsome pay off?

Only Zena can answer these questions, and we strongly suspect, she’ll be saying nothing.

Now she’s responsible for the draft KCC Budget to be debated – and no doubt passed at Detling where the meeting is to be held on the 10 Feb 2022.

The draft budget makes recommendations to hike the price of the Kent Travel Saver, used by school children.

The draft budget recommends the Kent Travel Saver price to increase from £370 to £450, a 22% increase, from when the application window for 2022 academic year opens in May 2022 & increase price of pass for those on lower incomes or in receipt of Free School Meals from £120 to £150, a 25% increase.

It’s clear those on lower incomes and in receipt of free school meals will be paying more than those not receiving free school meals.

The number using the Kent Travel Saver card was approx 25,000 pre pandemic and has fallen to approx 19,000. Which goes along way in explaining the price rise. Given the £2m cut in bus subsidy to Stagecoach & Arriva would also suggest lower use of buses. But does this mean more cars on the road and more emissions? Who knows.

Back in 2014, the then Emily Arnold [pictured] – ex Mayor of Folkestone & former Tory Cllr of Shepway District Council [now FHDC] campaigned successfully to prevent a price increase on the Kent Travel Saver, stating:

These changes are going to cost a lot of people a lot of money,“.

Now given Inflation is at its highest levels in 30 years, wages stagnating, food price hikes, energy hikes, and National Insurance to rise in April, Emily’s words ring true today as they did in 2014. The price hike for the Kent Travel Saver needs to be reconsidered, given the circumstances in the economy and the pinch on parents wallets and purses.

It doesn’t stop there though. The draft budget also recommends KCC Cllrs

Withdraw the current free entitlement to discretionary disabled companion passes from the ENCTS scheme and withdraw the right for Other Local Authority (OLA) disabled companion
passes to be used for travel in Kent

Meaning carers for disabled people will have to pay for their journey’s on public transport.

Then there is Council Tax.

The final draft budget includes a 2.99% proposed increase in Council Tax charge for 2022-23. Council tax is by far the most significant source of funding towards KCC’s core budget (accounting for 70% of net revenue spending). The total Council Tax requirement for KCC is  £823,094,400  which amounts to around 70% of a household council tax bill. KCC’s council tax level is currently 9th of the 24 County Councils

The individual district changes between 2021-22 and 2022-23 taxbase estimates, and the 2022-23 KCC council tax precept are shown below. Note this is the 70% that KCC will receive from district/borough councils if the budget passes.

This means a typical band D household will see its Council Tax [including Adult Social Care of 1%] by £0.81 per week, or put another way, the band D will rise from £1,418.76 to £1,461.24, an increase of £42.82, or 2.99%. Then add on the £10-a-year, increase for Kent Police, agreed on the 2 Feb, at County Hall, who have to find another 185 officers and reduce their deficit in their Mid Term Financial Strategy by £34.5m, with £6m being necessary in 2022/23.

Add on any amount of council tax needed by Kent Fire & Rescue Service increase  and what local district and parish council’s will be charging as well, really does mean that an ever increasing number of households across Kent will feel the pinch, and even more so as inflation rises, as it erodes the value of the pounds you earn.

There are no easy answers, and Cllrs face difficult decisions on the 10 Feb. But whatever the outcome from the budget meeting, taking place at Detling, many more people will feel the pinch, as the economy staggers out of the pandemic.

There is much more we could say, but for now we, the TEAM will leave it at that.

If you want to read the draft budget you can do so ⇒ here

If you’d like to contact your KCC Cllr about anything in the budget you can do so ⇒ here

The Shepway Vox Team

Dissent is not a Crime

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