Lowest council tax increase in Essex

ESSEX County Council has unveiled its lowest increase in council tax since its introduction nearly 20 years ago.

James Hore

ESSEX County Council has unveiled its lowest increase in council tax since its introduction nearly 20 years ago.

The below-inflation rise of 1.9% means people living in a Band D property will pay �1066.50 towards the Essex element - an increase of �19.89 compared to last year.

Households also have to pay precepts to borough or district and, in some cases, parish councils, along with Essex's police and fire services.

Lord Hanningfield, leader of the council, said the increase recognised there were families struggling to pay their bills.

He said the relatively low rise had been made possible by finding millions of pounds of savings from within the council and pledged there would be more to come.

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However, Liberal Democrats at County Hall have attacked the Tory-run council, saying the low-level increase had only been possible due to building up “excessive reserve funds” in recent years.

Announcing the rise, Lord Hanningfield, said: “We understand fully how many families are currently struggling in the downturn which is why we must do everything possible to keep bills to an absolute minimum.

“We also have our unique council tax relief scheme that will provide direct support of �100 to the 30,000 most vulnerable households in the county which will shortly roll out.

“I am determined to deliver value for money for the people of Essex. In the last year we delivered savings of �34 million and we have pledged to deliver �200 million in total over three years.

“That is why we are currently looking at every part of our operation to see if it can be delivered even more efficiently and effectively.”

The proposal will go before the full council on February 10.

But last night, Tom Smith-Hughes, group leader of the Liberal Democrats, said: “We have been saying for ages now, that excessive reserve funds built up from over-charging local taxpayers in previous years is wrong. Clearly the money was not needed as it hasn't been spent.

“The Liberal Democrats plan to give the excessive money held by the council back to taxpayers through a one-off rebate, which will give taxpayers a financial boost in these gloomy economic times.”

Colchester Borough Council has already announced an increase to council tax of 2.76%, resulting in a payment of �171 for a Band D property and Tendring District Council has proposed a rise of 4% meaning payments go up by �5.76 to about �150 per year on a Band D property.