Kingston takes decisive action to confront national financial crisis for councils
Kingston addresses national financial crisis to protect services for residents.
Rising demand for vital support and spiralling costs mean Kingston Council is having to take decisive action to protect services for residents as central government funding fails to keep pace with the challenge.
With the dramatic change to the economic situation impacting councils up and down the country, Kingston has decided to act fast and put in place recruitment restrictions for all but the most essential roles such as social workers.
Calls within Parliament have increased recently for councils to be funded adequately. Kingston has seen practically all of its core government grant removed over the past 12 years and the council is now also confronting the growing rise in costs and demand for key services.
More than half of everything the council spends each year goes to providing residents with social care support and children’s services and these needs are rising all the time. For instance, the number of residents across the borough living with dementia is set to soar from around 1,500 currently to more than 2,100 in 2027.
Despite these pressures, the government has reduced Kingston’s central grant from £66m in 2010 to just £4,000 this year.
Thankfully, Kingston’s effective financial management in recent years and clear plans for the future mean the borough is in a stronger position than many councils to face the tough times ahead.
The council has already begun the work to build the resilience the borough needs to weather the financial storm.
Throughout the pandemic the council galvanised the community response and worked to develop networks between community and voluntary groups as well as charities and other public sector organisations. This meant communities were empowered and people were properly supported in their neighbourhoods. This partnership working has continued so communities have the strength to confront new challenges.
A brilliant example is the BRITE Box project run by local charity Voices of Hope. The scheme sends weekly meal kits to families at risk of food insecurity. Kingston’s four neighbourhood committees are now considering proposals to provide BRITE Box with £3,000 from each of their grant pots so the charity can continue its excellent work. The Kingston and North Kingston and South of the Borough committees have already voted to provide the funding.
In addition, the council has acted to strengthen its financial position, launching an asset strategy which is set to generate around £40m over four years and achieve savings of around £1.1m.
However, challenges still remain and with residents beginning to feel the full impact of the cost of living crisis, Kingston Council remains committed to providing every possible support to local people in need. This is despite the council now also suffering the consequences of this crisis with spiralling energy bills further squeezing the budget.
Leader of Kingston Council, Andreas Kirsch said:
“We are in a stronger position than many to face the financial challenges ahead because we have put the borough’s finances in order, taken the decisive action needed and started the work to build effective community resilience.
“This means we can continue to focus on the key services our residents rely upon and continue the important work to transform our borough environmentally, culturally and economically.
“The frustrating thing is that the challenges we are facing are not of Kingston’s making. Central government has failed to ensure that councils such as ours are properly funded in recent years.”
Councils up and down the country are facing similar challenges and there are almost daily reports of councils struggling to balance budgets and declaring large overspends.
The national economic situation for councils remains tough. Last year the House of Commons committee responsible for scrutinising government policies for local authorities declared council finances were “unsustainable without reform”.
The chair of the cross-party committee Clive Betts said at the time: “Council budgets have been stretched for several years and social care funding is at the heart of financial pressures for many councils.”
Last month the same committee said the government “urgently needs to come forward with additional funding” to help “the ravaged adult social care sector meet immediate pressures, including inflation and unmet care needs”.