Councillor Hebb introduced the
report by stating that he felt the council had a strong financial
outlook, as they were being proactive and using data analysis to
ensure the council had a balanced budget. He outlined the
recommendation that would be going to Full Council not to increase
council tax for the next municipal year, unlike 95% of other
councils, and stated that, if agreed, Cabinet would be recommending
a council tax freeze. He described how Thurrock were a £0.5billion council, and were in a good
positon as they did not need to increase council tax. He drew a
comparison between now and the 2003/4 budget when tax had to be
increased by 48%. He added that this council tax freeze was due to
Thurrock’s reform and would not be funded by top-down cuts,
or drawing on reserves. He added that the council had increased
their ‘rainy day fund’ by 38%. He then highlighted
children’s services which had decreased their overspend by reducing demand through growth,
having quicker response times, and increasing the level of care.
Councillor Hebb stated that he felt there was still more to do, but
Thurrock were now balancing the budget, which ensured that
services were protected.
Councillor Hebb thanked the finance team, the commercial team, and the Section 151 Officer for all of their hard work on this, as he felt that thinking had changed and services had been reformed. He added that reform had taken place through the Council Spending Review; initiatives such as ‘Fewer Buildings, Better Services’; commercial objectives pushing services; and increased investment principles. He stated that the council would continue to review the budget, and ensure it was secure, as well as continuing to deliver new houses and services. He mentioned that once the Council Spending Review was completed, it would be reviewed again to try and avoid additional burden on taxpayers. He highlighted that Thurrock had the most affordable council tax in Essex, as well as maintaining services such as weekly bin collections; investment into street scene; 24 new police officers due to work with Essex Police; tackling anti-social behaviour; 1000 new council homes; new integrated medical centres; and an additional £250,000 into capital schemes. He felt that the council tax freeze would leave more money in resident’s pockets to be able to provide for their families.
Councillor Hebb then discussed the capital plans which were outlined in the report such as £0.25billion on improving the landscape; Purfleet regeneration; Grays underpass; A13 widening; the East facing slip roads; and improvements to the cycle network. He felt that these capital projects would have a positive impact on young people, commuters, businesses and infrastructure as well as on the health of residents. He summarised by stating that there was numerous large-scale projects ongoing and there was lots to look forward to in the borough.
Councillor Halden opened the debate and stated he felt proud to see the balanced budget. He continued and drew comparison between Thurrock’s budget and Essex County Council’s budget, which although was 14x bigger than Thurrock, had only invested £1million into adult and children’s mental health; compared to Thurrock which had invested £1million into just children’s mental health. He also highlighted that Thurrock had given an extra £500,000 to help tackle the ‘county lines’ issue, as well as £500,000 into the Dedicated Schools Grant. He summarised and commented that he felt this was an ambitious budget.
Councillor Coxshall added that it had been good to see savings, particularly related to the ‘Fewer Buildings, Better Services’ scheme as this provided good services to Thurrock residents. He also highlighted Thurrock’s ‘Release, Re-Use, Retain’ scheme on Council owned buildings which had given a £1.5million capital receipt in January 2019, and drew Cabinet’s attention to point 5.6 in the report which showed the capital receipts could lead to the general fund, and then to the HRA, which could lead to increased housing.
The Leader added that it was good to see investments in areas such as children’s mental health, and additional police officers, not come at an increased cost to taxpayers. He felt that the budget process was good, as it was supported by an evidence base and found additional money other than council tax. He highlighted that the ‘Fewer Buildings, Better Services’ scheme had increased the use of children’s centres by 33%, as well as saving money which showed the scheme was working. He clarified that Cabinet were recommending the council tax freeze to Full Council, who could then approve. He finally thanked officers for their hard work every day on the budget and investments, and understood that recommending a council tax freeze went against the advice of officers. Councillor Hebb commented that investments were all linked to the economic plan, and felt the structures in place to monitor these were good.
RESOLVED: That Cabinet:
1. Recommended to Full Council a council tax freeze
2. Agreed the budget report set out through this report and appendices
3. Recommended to Full Council the capital proposals set out in this report and appendices.
Reason for Decision – as stated in the report
This decision is subject to call-in