Essex County Council votes in a budget of cuts

Essex County Council

Essex County Council - Credit: Archant

Announcing that Essex County Council must save £1million every week for the next four years, David Finch, the council’s Conservative leader saw his budget of cuts voted in on Tuesday – and amendments to it by Lib Dems and Labour voted out.

Councillor Finch said the council had marked £76million worth of savings. This year’s council’s budget would be a third less than last year, reduced by a further £57million.

“By the end of this decade, we must find over £300million worth of savings – and that’s on top of more than £560million in savings made since 2010.”

Labour Councillor Julie Young for Wivenhoe St Andrew said: “We have a cruel Government on a mission to destroy public services and local government is first in line.”

She added: “For five years, this administration has been led like lemmings over the cliff by the Secretary of State by taking the Council Tax freeze bribe. By doing so, we are worse off by up to £50million.

“Your political colleagues in Westminster encouraged this reckless approach and now they have cut government support by 33 per cent with more cuts to come. Essex Council Tax payers face paying considerably more for less.”

Labour asked for 11 amendments to the budget calling for £250,000 for careers advice for young people, £1million to tackle fuel poverty, £700,000 for a cycling project, £3million to be put back into the highways budget and £200,000 on help to stop people smoking. Their other suggestions were £50,000 on a report into equal pay and £25,000 for a report into passing the responsibility for street lighting and kerbside grass to district councils.

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For the Lib Dems, Cllr Mike Mackrory asked for an increase of £500,000 each for youth services and for child and adolescent mental health services, £30,000 for access to education and extra £6million for highways, including local highways panels.

As reported last week, Uttlesford tax payers will pay an extra 84 pence a week, or £43.83 a year to the county council, as well as £1.40 a year (for the average band D property) for Uttlesford District Council, £4.96 extra for the police and £1.26 for the fire service.

In Saffron Walden, there will be an annual £25 extra for the town council and in Dunmow the town council rate is going down by £1.22 a year.

Cllr Finch said he had fought for Essex, writing to the Prime Minister on January 5, telling David Cameron that the government misunderstood how local government worked and that soon Essex would face the prospect of not being able to live within its means.

The response was an extra £14million over the next two years, which Labour members dismissed as “a drop in the ocean”.

Despite the cuts, Cllr Finch said £200million would be invested in roads and infrastructure, 1,500 jobs and 500 apprenticeships would be created and superfast broadband extended to cover 95 per cent of the county.

Some £45million would be invested in housing and £365million in schools, with £57million for special schools.

“Essex will be one of the best places to live in if you have a child with special needs,” said Cllr Finch.

He said prevention of falls and strokes would save the council £25million and the number of children taken into care had been reduced to 1,000.

Savings had been made on council properties, cutting 56 offices down to nine, saving £24million. A further £7million would be saved on back office costs, digitising the way social workers work would save £4million, tackling Council Tax fraud would save £10million and another £1million would be saved by moving register offices into libraries.

In answer to a councillor’s question about the rightness of providing private health care to council staff “who are already well remunerated”, Cllr John Spence CBE, cabinet member for finance, replied that this applied to 249 employees at a cost of £315,000 which was “good value.”