Council warns of “renewed focus” amid £119m budget gap

Essex County Council has said there will be “renewed focus” on looking at further ways to transform the council as it faces a budget gap of more than £100million within three years.

Figures indicate the difference between expected expenditure and income to be £24m in 2023/24, which will then increase to £59m the year after and then to £119m in 2025/26.

The warning comes after its announcement that its share of council tax is set to increase by an average of more than £60 a year in 2022/23.

The council forecasts a funding gap in future years even after delivering 100 per cent of all existing planned savings.

However, this mid range scenario is likely to change given the context of Fair Funding Reform for local government from 2023/24.

But the county council has said it expects to identify ways to drive “further savings”, including through use of technology and digitisation and to continue to explore the “redesign of services and different ways of working with its partners”.

A report from the authority to cabinet said: “In 2022, there will be renewed focus on looking at further ways to transform the council and identify ways to drive further savings, including through use of technology and digitisation.

“The council must continue to explore the redesign of services and different ways of working with its partners, local communities and the voluntary sector to ensure essential services can be provided within the context of increasing demand.

“The realignment of resources to ensure they are focused on the aims set out in Everyone’s Essex will also continue to be a key focus.”

The funding gap was raised as a concern at cabinet on Tuesday with leader of the opposition Cllr Chris Pond, (Loughton Residents Association, Loughton) and leader of the Labour group Councillor Ivan Henderson (Lab, Harwich) both asking how it will be filled.

Cllr Chris Whitbead, cabinet member for finance said: “If you look at the section 151 officers report it makes it clear that we have plans to address those gaps in the future and we will be bringing to your scrutiny panel some of the plans as we move forward.

“So we’re very much a council about building those firm foundations for the future so that we hand the council over in better condition than it was ten years ago to the next council.”

Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter