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Essex County Council plans council tax rise for next year

PUBLISHED: 17:06 18 January 2016 | UPDATED: 17:11 18 January 2016

County Hall, Chelmsford.

County Hall, Chelmsford.

Council tax is set to rise in Essex next year as County Hall looks to put up the basic rate and introduce a new charge for social care – while giving a warning about next year’s budget.

"Do I think we are making cuts? No. Can we go much further without making significant cuts? No, we are at the point where that comes next."

Cllr John Spence, Essex county councillor for finance

Essex County Council is looking to put up the tax by 1.99%, just below the threshold for a referendum, and add in the 2% rise allowed by government to fund social care.

It means a Band D home will see an annual increase of £43.38, or 84p per week, with a total bill for the authority of £1,130.13.

County Hall has said it is able to set a balanced budget for next year without cutting any services, despite having to find £76million of savings, though officers have warned of a “significant risk” in terms of achieving savings plans.

However John Spence, county councillor for finance, said although some reserves could be used to make up any shortfall, the real challenge would come next year in the face of yet more funding cuts from Westminster – on the back of £521m already saved in the past five years.

Mr Spence said: “There has been a particularly tough financial settlement from Government, and while we understand the reasons for it the impact on Essex has been very difficult to absorb.

“We are determined to continue to provide our services, they will be reshaped in some cases as we work to make them better.

“If the only way to deliver a balanced budget was to cut services or make them worse then what’s the point? That’s not what I got elected for.

“We have a great track record on council tax, and have frozen it for the past five years in a period when real-term incomes were declining, so it was pretty inevitable we would have to put it up. The social care element reflects an increase in the National Living Wage, which is good but someone has to pay for it.

“We will do our best to avoid repeating such increases but I cannot rule them out.

“What is concerning is we will need considerably more savings next year, and it just gets tougher. It is like picking berries from brambles, you can get the low ones but the big juicy ones which were out of reach at the top – we are going to have find ways to reach them.

“Do I think we are making cuts? No. Can we go much further without making significant cuts? No, we are at the point where that comes next.”

Mr Spence added that talks were ongoing with ministers outline the impact of the funding cuts, and he had met with Whitehall officials yesterday morning to argue the case for less severe cutbacks.

Spending plans include housing for vulnerable people to allow them to live more independently – and reduce the social care bill – and on roads maintenance, as well as £3m for the A120 route consultation.

Cabinet will discuss the budget plans at its meeting next Tuesday, before putting the proposals to full council on February 9.

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