County Council agree budget

Politics / Tue 11th Feb 2014 at 01:40pm

ESSEX County Council has today (Tuesday) agreed a budget that invests in ‘jobs, people and infrastructure’ while freezing council tax for the fourth successive year.

The Leader of the Council, Councillor David Finch, told today’s Full Council that millions of pounds of additional funding would be spent on key issues including road and footpath repairs, schools, apprenticeships and flood management over the coming year.

The Council had originally proposed a 1.49 per cent Council Tax increase, but decided to freeze it after receiving additional income from the County’s Borough, District and City councils, as a result of economic growth and greater council tax collection figures.

These much better than expected figures – received by the Council only last week – mean it can freeze council tax and also invest in other areas including:

£2 million for flood management across the county to help put in place protective measures at a time of unprecedented and prolonged bad weather. A further £1m of emergency funding has also been released to tackle road flooding across the county.

£1 million for a Essex School Improvement Fund to give children the best start in life through raising standards and leadership in schools – especially primary schools.

Providing an extra £17 million to tackle the impact the recent bad weather has had on the county’s roads.

£1 million to provide more equipment and better facilities for young people – helping to build stronger communities.

£1.4 million for providing care and support to people with physical and learning needs to enable them to live as independent a life as possible.

£500,000 to support young people looking for jobs through helping to provide an additional 260 Apprenticeships through the Essex Apprenticeship Programme – allowing a total of 515 new apprenticeships to be created under the programme during 2014/15 in key areas like engineering, digital technologies and care services.

Cllr Finch said: “Our promise to the people of Essex is simple. If we can keep as much of your hard-earned money in your pockets as possible, we will do. We want you to live and work in a low tax Essex and want to avoid increasing your council tax bills if possible.

“This is why for the fourth year running we are freezing council tax bills for Essex residents.”

However, he warned that that while seeking to build on the traditions of the Council’s 125 year history, it was a ’budget of difficult choices’ with more tough decisions needed in the future. The Council needs to save at least £235 million by 2017, with £107 million savings being made in 2014/15

He said: “This is a budget which balances priorities, makes people’s money go further and keeps as much money in the pockets of our residents as possible. While we have been able to freeze council tax and achieve a balanced budget for 2014/15, further work is needed to fully balance budgets for 2015/16 and 2016/17.

“Like thousands of hard working people across Essex our finances are under pressure. Our income from central government has continued to fall and we have nearly £30 million less in income than last year.

“At the same time the bills we need to pay continue to go up. Inflation is rising and so is the demand for our services. So the gap between the money we have and the money we need will grow over the next three years.

“The Council cannot therefore avoid taking difficult decisions now in the naïve hope that the next government will be able to give us more money.”

Cllr Finch said the Council was committed to continuing to build on its successes over the past year and the Vision for Essex unveiled in July. This vision set out the authority’s aim for a county where innovation brings prosperity for its residents and communities.

These successes include:

The proportion of primary schools in Essex judged good or outstanding over the last year increasing from 62 per cent to 70 per cent.

Almost 83 per cent of secondary school pupils achieved three or more A Levels at A* to E Grade – around 3.6 per cent above the national average

More than 1,000 secondary school children taking Science, Technology, Engineering or Maths industry projects, which will help bring an estimated £10 million benefit to Essex businesses

Helping over 2,000 people get into work through apprenticeships

Eliminating waiting lists for people needing occupational therapy assessments

Investing £6 million in high speed broadband to bring better connections to rural areas, increasing business opportunities

Cllr Finch said: “When people ask me what our Council Tax is spent on, I am proud to say it is invested in better care for people across Essex when and where they need it most.

“It is a budget that invests in people, infrastructure and jobs. And it is a budget that … freezes the Council’s share of council tax for the fourth successive year.”

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