Funding for a multi-agency approach to tackle the scourge of young people being exploited through 'County Lines' drug dealing, and a further cash boost for Children's mental health were announced today as part of the County Council's budget plans.
Essex County Council today (Tuesday 12th February) announced its budget and plans for the coming financial year.
Along with support for younger, vulnerable people in Essex, Cllr David Finch, the Leader of the County Council, also had good news for the County's pedestrians – a new package to help fund repairs to the county's footways and pavements.
Councillor Finch told Councillors: “This year's budget and the plan for how we will spend taxpayer's money sets the stage for a vibrant, dynamic and inspiring Essex – learning from challenges and building on our successes.
“County Lines, which have brought drugs and associated crime to urban and rural areas of Essex, is a real and present danger to communities up and down our county.
“Our Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner Roger Hirst has identified this as a priority and with our responsibility for the wider wellbeing of all our communities, we are making £500,000 available for partnership working to protect young people at risk from those who might exploit them.
“The mental health of our young people is a growing concern. We are rightly proud of our outstanding children's services, so I am pleased to announce extra support to the tune of £1,000,000 for Children's Mental Health provision."
Cllr Finch also announced a new fund of £250,000 to help prevent homelessness and rough sleeping. A new scheme will see the council recruiting mentors who will work with up to 50 people who are at risk of rough sleeping, and 150 people who are at risk of losing their homes.
The Council Leader also reminded members that Essex's small business entrepreneurial spirit was alive and well with 98% of firms having a workforce of less than 10 people.
He said that developing the infrastructure they rely on was crucial to the £40bn the County contributes to UK PLC every year, and said that having tackled potholes last year, this year it would be pavements and footways which benefitted from £700,000 extra investment.
“We are setting out ambitious goals for where we want to take this county and the County Council. We want to be the leading council for innovation and efficiency. We know that great things can be achieved with the passion, commitment and talent that exists throughout Essex," he added.
The budget for the year ahead includes capital investment of just under £250m for homes, schools and road, plus revenue spending including:
• 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.
The combined impact of reductions in Council's revenue support grant, plus the impact of inflation, population growth and increasing demand and expectation of services has necessitated a proposed total council tax increase of 3.99%.
Of this, 1% is ring-fenced to adult social care, 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 is £1,270.44, a weekly increase of £0.94 a week.
Cllr Louise McKinlay, Cabinet Member for Finance, Commercial and Traded Services, said that despite reductions in grant funding, significant investment in services and infrastructure meant the County was well placed to retain its position as one of the most dynamic places in the country to live and work.
She said: “We have an outstanding record of providing value to tax-paying residents.
“This year, the challenge of setting a balanced budget is the greatest we have ever faced, with our support grant from Government reducing by £27m.
“How we provide services is also changing – we can't go on doing things the same way we did 20 years ago. Society's needs and demands have changed.
“This budget is about making the right decisions, in the right way, and investing now for Essex's future prosperity. We believe it strikes the right balance between asking people to pay a little extra to ensure that the services people need and rely on are provided and our ambitions for the future of Essex can be met."