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Essex: Council freezes tax for third year running

11:50 23 January 2013

ESSEX County Council is set to freeze council tax for a third year running.

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The cap was agreed by the local authority’s cabinet yesterday as part of budget proposals for 2013/14 and will go to a vote before full council on February 5.

If agreed, ECC’s share of council tax for a Band D property would remain at £1,086.75.

David Finch, ECC’s portfolio holder for finance, said through their “transformation programme” the council is becoming more of a “commissioner of services” rather than a provider.

During the meeting, Mr Finch outlined plans to find £55million of savings but also proposed investments in certain areas.

Almost £18million is earmarked for creating additional school places; £65million in maintaining the county’s roads and £1.5million to help economic growth. Around £2million would also be spent on on providing accommodation for vulnerable people.

Mr Finch said: “This is a time of unprecedented change. We are seeing great economic uncertainty therefore this is a budget proposal which is both prudent and yet a challenging budget which focuses on economic growth and vulnerable people within our society.

“This is a long-term project. We are not an administration of the quick fixes.”

He said £364m has been saved so far through their transformation programme and the council was on track to save a further £200m by 2017.

A total of £25million of underspend from last year is also being transferred to the 2013/14 budget.

Speaking after the meeting, Mr Finch said: “The second stage of the transformation programme is moving this council to a more agile and leaner organisation which is becoming a commissioner of services rather than a provider.”

He also said the recruitment of senior council officers and the appointment of senior councillors with strong commercial skills and had helped bring about savings while protecting front line services.

But leader of the Lib Dem opposition Mike Mackrory said it was vital the council’s services remained accountable.

“We have to recognise an increase in council tax is not something we would want to do when everyone is already hard pressed,” he said.

“What we now need to do is actually get behind these figures and see what this means to front line services. There’s £2million off here and £3million off there, but they’re just figures. We need to find out what impact that has.

“We need to be satisfied that procedures will be in place so our residents are going to receive value for money and get quality services. There is a move towards using more external organisations but we need to make sure we have a council that remains accountable.”

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