Essex's ambition to be the leading Council in innovation and efficiency is at the heart of its budget proposals for the coming financial year.
Published this week, the Council's draft Organisation Plan and budget for 2019/20 outlines plans for significant investment in the services and infrastructure the County needs to retain its position as one of the most dynamic places in the country to live and work.
Recently rated in the top ten most productive councils in the country for productivity by iMPOWER, and celebrating an 'outstanding' rating for its children's services from Ofsted, Essex has announced capital investment of just under £250m for homes, schools and roads in the coming year, alongside revenue spending plans which include:
- Funding for 1,066 new primary school places, and 2,198 new secondary school places – the equivalent of five new schools - including those for pupils with special educational needs and disability
- £117m for maintaining and improving the road network
- £14m for faster broadband connections
- New contracts with residential care providers which increase their income
- 40 new homes including eight for people with learning disabilities through Essex Housing.
With the Council's revenue support grant from central government reducing fast and set to be phased out entirely from next year, plus the impact of inflation, population growth and increasing demand for and expectation of services, the financial picture remains challenging. This has necessitated a proposed total council tax increase of 3.99%.
Of this, 1% would be ring-fenced to adult social care from the Government's social care precept allowance, with the remaining 2.99% supporting the delivery of other vital local services. The council tax annual bill for a band 'D' property in Essex for County Council services would be £1,270.44, a weekly increase of just £0.94 a week.
Cllr David Finch, Leader of Essex County Council, said: “Essex prides itself on being innovative, dynamic and entrepreneurial. We are go getting – we have one of the highest business start-up rates in the country. People expect the same from their council.
“If we don't find ways of doing things differently, if we don't innovate, we won't succeed. The challenges of ever-increasing costs and demand are real. Austerity might be over, but its effects are still with us.
“This budget is about making the right decisions, in the right way, so we are investing now for Essex's future prosperity. We have a track record of rolling up our sleeves and getting things done. We've saved over £1million a week, every week, over the past four years. Our track record speaks for itself, as does our willingness to innovate, be enterprising, entrepreneurial and embrace internet-age opportunities."
Cllr Louise McKinlay, Cabinet Member for Finance, Commercial and Traded Services, said: “We have an outstanding record of providing value to tax-paying residents and the budget reflects how we prioritise services that promote economic growth, continue to support excellent education and protect vulnerable children and adults across our County.
“This budget is planning for the Essex of tomorrow – how we provide services is changing – doing things the same way that we did 10 years ago will not work, as the way we live, work, travel and enjoy leisure time has been radically transformed by technology. Yet we are rising to these challenges and have set a budget that will support and reflect these changes to ensure we can seize opportunities across the County.
“Inflation, population growth and increasing demand and expectation mean we plan to utilise the Government's 1% increase for social care and thus increase council tax by a total of 3.99%. With those proposed increases, for a Band D property, this amounts to just under £1 a week, which we believe strikes the right balance between asking people to pay a little extra to ensure the services people need and rely on are provided and our ambitions for the future of Essex can be met."
The Council's Cabinet will meet to approve the proposals on Tuesday 22nd January, before they go to Full Council for final approval on Tuesday 12th February.