Thurrock slashes hardship fund to keep council tax below 10 per cent

A hardship fund intended to help the most vulnerable Thurrock residents through the current financial crisis is to be slashed to keep council tax below 10 per cent.

Thurrock Council resisted calls to raise council tax by 9.99 per cent this year and instead set it at 7.99 per cent. This has left the council with a £1.7million shortfall in its proposed £18.2million savings which it must find in order to set a balanced budget for 2024/25.

The council proposes to save £616,000 from its hardship fund, £200,000 from its resources and capacity plan and £53,000 from parks and open spaces. The cuts will involve savings from the home to school transport service.

Councillors gathered for a corporate overview and scrutiny meeting on Tuesday to debate the last minute budget changes, which must be agreed by the end of March.

Speaking at the meeting, Sara Muldowney, Labour councillor for Chadwell St Mary, said: “What’s underlying this decision to make this last change? What’s the justification for having to bring forward these additional £1.7million in cuts with weeks to go before budget meeting?”

Graham Snell, councillor responsible for finance, human resources and payroll, said: “Ultimately we made the decision to not charge residents in Thurrock the full 9.99 per cent council tax. That generated a deficit which we need to recover. That’s a choice we had to make. We could either charge the 9.99 per cent which was budgeted for but we chose not to go down that route. We decided to try and save the residents of Thurrock some extra money.”

Speaking after the meeting, John Kent, leader of the Labour Group, said: “This year, Thurrock Council will spend the equivalent of 138 per cent of its total budget on servicing it’s debt, council tax will go up by twice the rate of inflation – and the council will still need a government bailout of over £68 million to set next year’s budget.

“In a desperate attempt to balance the budget, the Tories are looking to cut home to school transport, to re- introduce charges for pendant alarms and to slash £600k from the council’s hardship fund – all of which will hit the most vulnerable the hardest.

Cllr Kent added: “With less than two weeks until the council has to set its budget for next year, there is still a gap of £1 million in their plans.”

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Christine Sexton

Local Democracy Reporter