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Medway Council finds £5m, tries not to panic about the other £50m
Plus good and bad rail news, a giant cabbage, and Childish at the Cathedral
Medway Council’s finances continue to be on a knife-edge. The authority is celebrating finding £5m in savings this week, but will be enough to pull them back from the brink? Plus we have some good and bad rail news, details of a giant and possibly radioactive cabbage in Luton, and Steven makes a rare Friday appearance with his thoughts after watching Billy Childish play at Rochester Cathedral.
Medway Council finds £5m, tries not to panic about the other £50m
It’s time to crack open the champagne at Medway Council, as the authority excitedly announced in a press release this week that they have closed the budget gap by over £5m in their latest revenue budget monitoring report, which is due to be discussed by the Cabinet next week.
Medway has managed to find savings across a number of areas, most significantly in reducing overspends in Children’s and Adult Services and Regeneration, Culture and Enviornment by £1.7m and £1.5m respectively. Additional savings have been found from Business Support Services and Frontline Services.
While the council is now looking at additional spending with a need for nearly 70 new temporary accommodation places for homeless people, and extra spending on regeneration projects, the net result is still an improved position by £5m.
This is all very important but still leaves the council facing a nearly £12.3m overspend during this financial year. As the clock ticks, there is only £10m available in reserves to draw from. At a bare minimum, another £2.3m will need to be found, and even that will see the council’s entire reserves being wiped out.
Still, this doesn’t seem like an impossible figure, and it does seem like Medway could indeed make it through this year without issuing a Section 114 notice, which effectively declares bankruptcy.
The problem, as ever, is what happens next.
Even if the council gets through this year, they still need to deliver a balanced budget in February 2024 for the year ahead and are currently facing £35.8m budget deficit. This is an improvement on the previously projected £38.9m, but ultimately means that they need to effectively find nearly £50m more in the next three months.
The council is considering a number of options to raise revenue, but none of them are likely to raise the kind of figures needed to avert disaster. Council tax revenue is set to increase by £10m next year, and the council is seeking to raise an additional £1m by increasing council tax rates on empty and second homes. Beyond that, it looks like fairly mundane efforts such as improving debt recovery and reducing some discount schemes. This is without even taking into account significant unexpected spending which is likely to arise, such as repairing Gun Wharf following the current RAAC issue with the building.
With the prospect of being unable to pass a balanced budget in February still very much on the agenda, it’s slightly baffling that Medway Council decided to celebrate being only £12.3m short this year. But maybe you need to take the (tiny) wins wherever you can.
Good rail news, everybody
We don’t often have much positive to say about Southeastern and their grossly overpriced rail services, and that won’t be that different here, but there is at least a tiny bit of good news for commuters from the company this week.
Following years of pandemic service reductions, which aw our high-speed rail services operating only hourly outside of the main daytime hours, the operator is now introducing a half-hourly service for most of the day once again. Services from Medway to London will now operate every 30 minutes between 5am and 6pm, while return services from London will be on the same frequency from 7am to 8.30pm.
This at least relieves the somewhat frustrating gap in service which meant that if you missed the 19.20 St Pancras to Medway service, you had to wait an hour for the next one. This effectively restores most services to a similar frequency to pre-pandemic, so while not a great step forward, it’s a welcome move nonetheless.
Bad rail news, everybody
Following a period of relative calm after frequent strike disruption, strikes are returning to the rail network in a couple of weeks.
ASLEF union members will be conducting a rolling series of strikes between 2 December and 8 December, with workers at different train operators striking on different days, presumably to make the effects felt as widely as possible.
Luckily for us, Medway’s location means the vast majority of our services are run by one operator (the aforementioned Southeastern), meaning trains will not be running on Wednesday 5 December.
For both passengers of the Thameslink trains that operate in Medway, their services will be affected on Sunday 3 December. How many people will actually notice is another matter entirely.
Luton gets a giant cabbage
Hands up if you knew that cabbages were significant to Luton.
Apparently, it’s all to do with the agricultural past of the area, which was at some point referred to as Cabbage Island. Despite the fact it isn’t an island. But anyway.
The group commissioned street artist WOSKerski to design and paint the mural, and the end result in Henry Street is certainly eye-catching. The group are now considering future murals, so the future of Luton could potentially be (literally) much brighter.
Childish at the Cathedral
- by Steven Keevil
This week was Rochester Cathedral’s Festival of Blues and Jazz, a four-day event to raise funds for the Cathedral. Every night featured Ronnie Scott DJ, Sarah Weller, who was having great fun playing tracks on equipment bought specifically for the night. Who knew that Rochester Cathedral wouldn’t have its own DJ set up?
The nights have been curated by Medway’s own James Taylor. James came on stage Wednesday night to introduce his hero and the night’s entertainment, Billy Childish. First, it was the folk sound of the Singling Loins, and then with blues renditions by the Chatham Singers. Steven Morris reviewed a recent gig by Billy Childish and The Singing Loins at the Medway Little Theatre earlier this week. As venues go, the Cathedral is probably the most diametrically opposite to the Medway Little Theatre possible.
At the theatre, Billy had spoken of Rochester Cathedral being concerned about his language, and they considered changing the lyrics of the ‘Song of the Medway’. They didn’t change the lyrics then, and they didn’t change them at the Cathedral either, with Billy apologising with a grin on his face.
The Chatham Singers filled the cathedral with fun and heart. Jim Riley was having a great night on the harmonica and the crowd, and this writer, enjoyed both sets. It was a good night to be in Medway.
During the first part of the night, Billy referenced a recent review he had read, which highlighted ‘chaos and giggling’. It was odd to be in the audience in the cathedral hearing the work of this newsletter referenced. I’ll leave the final words to Mr Childish himself: “People think we put that in because we don’t know what we are doing. We do it because we are human. Perfection spoils beauty.”
🚘 Medway is set to receive £12.5m from the government to fix potholes. There must be an election due soon.
🧯 A Chatham man has been arrested after trying to set fire to Medway Police Station. He entered the building and poured diesel over the front counter before lighting it with a rag. No one was injured in the incident.
🔶 Local Democracy Reporter Robert Boddy has been to interview the Medway Lib Dems. Unsurprisingly, issues discussed include potholes and flytipping.
🏡 KentLive has been to review the village of Upnor, for some reason. KentLive’s owners, Reach PLC, announced a huge round of editorial redundancies this week, meaning this kind of vital local journalism could soon be a thing of the past.
Can you help us?
We’d love to speak with anyone involved with or with knowledge of roller derby in Medway for an upcoming piece.
We’re still seeking to speak with anyone who has had experiences with planning enforcement at Medway Council, either good or bad.
More generally, if you are planning an event or launch in 2024 and would be happy to talk about it, please get in touch.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you can help out with the above either on or off the record, or if you have any stories that might interest our readers.
Paid supporters of Local Authority receive extra editions of the newsletter every week. This week, our resident music critic Stephen Morris reviewed Billy Childish, The Singing Loins and more at Medway Little Theatre’s Evening of Medway Poetry and Song. Our football columnist Ben Hopkins examined whether Gillingham’s new manager could turn things around and came to the clear conclusion of maybe. Finally, Steven trekked to Gravesham to interview Päivi Seppälä and Gary Weston, owners of creative venue and former lightship, LV21.
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This weekend, we’ll be at two different markets selling gifts and products from our Medwayish range, so please come along and pick up Medway-related stocking fillers for your friends and/or enemies. Find us:
Sun Pier House Christmas Arts Market on Saturday (18 Nov), 11am-3pm.
Rochester Farmers’ Market on Sunday (19 Nov), 9am-1pm.
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Music that soundtracked the creation of this newsletter: Never Not Never Not Never Not by Rosie Tucker, Introverted Romance In Our Troubled Minds by P.S. Eliot, Courting Strong by Martha, and Going to Hell by Lande Hekt.