Council tax bills set to increase

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Essex County Council is set to increase its council tax bill by about £50 for the average Band D household.

It means the average council tax bill for a Band D householder will increase from £1,270 to £1,321, in order for the council to raise its own council tax funding requirement of £707.9million.

Second tier district councils will set their bills separately.

Essex County Council’s element of the council tax is to be increased by 1.99 per cent, along with a two per cent social care precept, leaving the Essex County Council element of the council tax charge for a Band D property in 2020/21 at £1,321.11.

The recommendations, which will have to be made at full council in February, follow a budget consultation undertaken during November and December last year.

The council says the key messages from respondents to the consultation are that 55 per cent of participants feel well informed about public services, 84 per cent of participants recognise the financial challenges facing the county council and the impact that these are likely to have on future spending.

In addition, almost two thirds have felt the impact of service changes arising from national funding reductions.

The consultation results also revealed that the strongest support is for strategies that seek to prioritise spending to protect the most vulnerable and those without choices, help build self-reliance and reduce dependency on public services; and streamline services so that they can deliver the same outcomes.

The council says residents are unlikely to support reducing or stopping services and that the majority would be prepared to either pay more, or give their time to support local services that are experiencing financial pressure, while 43 per cent would be prepared to pay more through a one-off donation or a new/higher charge when using the service.

More than 80 per cent of participants identified care and support for vulnerable older people and those with mental health needs, and the maintenance of roads, footways and bridges, as services which should be protected.

A report to cabinet next week concludes: “Taken together, these results suggest that Essex residents recognise the continuing financial pressures facing the council and the need to prioritise and make efficiencies.

“They also recognise the need to balance spending on protecting the most vulnerable and on providing good universal services that most residents use.

“In response to the key messages, the most significant part of the budget is spent on social care services.

“The council is also continuing to invest in the maintenance of roads and footways, with an additional £4million per annum for roads maintenance.

“The council is investing more in children services and made specific investment in 2019/20 for mental health.

“Expenditure on waste is reducing slightly, however this is due to contract efficiencies made by the council. It should also be noted that waste collection is a district council responsibility.”

Among the proposals is an extra £5million for highways, £5million to tackle climate change and new investment in technology to support social care case management, more money to help meet increased demand for home to school transport and adults and children’s social care.

Cllr David Finch, Leader of Essex County Council, said: “Action speaks louder than words and we intend to use our new fund to take action on climate change. We will be advised on how we can get the maximum from that investment by an independent climate change commission, which we are in the process of establishing.

“Our budget proposals strike the right balance between an affordable increase, and investing and protecting in the services residents told us are the most important to them in our budget consultation.

“Our proposals reflect the people’s priorities – so caring for vulnerable people and investing in roads and infrastructure, for example, are high on the list.

“For a Band D household, the proposed increase in Council Tax is 97p a week, which we believe strikes the right balance between protecting services and paying just a little bit extra for them.

“Inflation, increasing demand and uncertainty around our core grants mean that the financial outlook is still challenging. But we have an outstanding record of providing value to taxpayers and for two years running we have appeared in the top ten most productive councils.

“We’ve saved over £1million a week, every week, over the past four years through cutting waste, innovating and doing business more efficiently, and this will continue.”

The council’s cabinet will meet to approve the proposals on Tuesday, January 21 , before they go to full council for final approval on Tuesday,  February 12.

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter