Essex: Council leader pays tribute to staff for transforming council

THE outgoing leader of Essex County Council praised colleagues for helping transform the local authority following multi-million pound cuts while maintaining frontline services.

Peter Martin took over as leader from disgraced peer Lord Hanningfield in 2010.

During his tenure, he has overseen �300m worth of cuts to the council budget which included more than 400 redundancies.

This week, Mr Martin announced he would be stepping down as leader and councillor after the forthcoming May elections.

Reflecting on his time as leader, Mr Martin said: “The biggest challenge was taking �300m out of our budget and maintaining services. We are offering, I think, really good value for money.

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“Broadly speaking, we have been able to maintain the level of our services which I think is remarkable and a great team effort. I pay tribute to my Conservative colleagues and council officers for what they have done.

“We have increased production and are much more efficient and changed how we run the council.”

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He said this has been achieved through a shake-up of procurement strategy, by outsourcing services to the private sector, reducing the number of managers and upgrading IT systems.

Mr Martin added: “We are an innovative council and try new things. For example, we are the first council in the country to introduce social impact bonds.

“At a time of financial constraints it’s a time when we look at new ways of saving money.”

Mr Martin has been an Essex county councillor for 24 years and said it was time to hand the role to someone else.

He said he is looking forward to spending more time with his children and grandchildren.

More recently, Mr Martin has faced calls from opposition councillors for a full inquiry into Lord Hanningfield’s council expenses.

They came after it emerged the peer had spent more than �286,000 on luxury hotel stays and trips abroad during his time as council leader.

Mr Martin said: “We have had a police investigation that lasted 15 months and we published an internal audit report and expenditure.

“We have a robust system in place now and external audits have confirmed that.

“We have spent so much time looking at this over the last three years, we have to move on. I think we need to focus on making ourselves more efficient.”

Following further Government cuts to council budgets, ECC now faces another tough challenge of finding another �150m worth of savings over the next four to five years.

Mr Martin said: “The next stage will be about working with our partners in the public sector, such as police and health, to find ways of delivering our services in a more efficient manner.

“It’s going to be tough but I do think it’s achievable.”

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