Council tax stemmed - but at a cost
ONE hundred jobs at County Hall are being axed to help keep council tax rises in Essex at their lowest levels ever, it has been revealed.Lord Hanningfield, leader of Essex County Council, announced the redundancies following the biggest-ever spending shake-up in the authority's history.
ONE hundred jobs at County Hall are being axed to help keep council tax rises in Essex at their lowest levels ever, it has been revealed.
Lord Hanningfield, leader of Essex County Council, announced the redundancies following the biggest-ever spending shake-up in the authority's history.
Confirming that the county's portion of total council tax would increase by just 4.7% next financial year – as exclusively revealed by the East Anglian Daily Times yesterday - the Tory peer insisted the redundancies were part of a major new efficiency drive, rather than a cut in front-line services.
Around 50 posts have already disappeared during the current financial year with a further 30 working out their notice periods and about 20 more set to go from April onwards.
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Although efforts have been made to re-deploy some of the people affected, many of the positions have been made redundant on a compulsory or voluntary basis.
Lord Hanningfield said the cuts – 20 in archaeology, nine in communications and others from HR, tourism and administrative support - were “unfortunate”, but difficult decisions have had to be made to keep a lid on taxes.
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He said the council had consulted widely with the public about what areas should be prioritised over the next few years with “citizens' panels” indicating they preferred cash to be spent on reducing traffic congestion and improving care for the elderly, rather than on enterprise and cultural services.
From April, the county council's charge on the final Band D bill will rise to £891.54 from the current adjusted level of £851.19.
On top of that, each householder will face extra demands from their district or borough council, the police and fire authorities – and also small charges from the parish councils.
With the police expected to increase their charge by 7% - to pay for higher visibility policing - and the fire service theirs by 24.7%, the final Band D bill that lands on people's doormats will be at least £1,194 in the Colchester borough and £1,169 in Tendring district – up 5.9% and 6.2% overall respectively.
Lord Hanningfield said the smallest ever rise levied by Essex County Council – to be discussed at full council on February 17 - was down to two reasons: the higher than expected increase in central Government grant of 5.5%, and the wide-raging spending review.
He said: “That we are able top bring in a much lower rise in Council Tax this year is the result of many months of careful planning for the new budget.
“This has meant some difficult decisions with very tight budgeting at County Hall and setting new priorities for council spending.”
He added: “We hope that this is the first of many years of low tax rises, but that of course is dependent on the Government.
“I'm aware of people's resentment for high council taxes, but they need to understand how little control we have over it because we are legally obliged to provide many services.”
Both opposition leaders at County Hall welcomed the rise yesterday.
Paul Sztumpf, leader of the Labour group at County Hall, said: “A 4.7% rise is good news for the people of Essex.
“The Labour Government has given a very generous grant settlement, which has been translated into this low tax increase.”
Ken Jones, leader of the county council's Lib Dems, said: “I'm pleased, but a bit surprised that they've managed to achieve this – I just hope it does not translate into poorer quality front-line services.”