It’s no secret that we, like councils nationwide, have a growing demand for services with the added challenge of reducing resources, like our grant funding from central Government which will disappear by 2020/21.
Recently the national press ran stories as a result of an investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism about nationwide cuts to funding in children’s services.
As far as Essex is concerned, it’s wrong to characterise reductions in budgets as ‘cuts’. Doing so ignores the positive efficiencies we’ve found by embracing new technology and new ways of working.
For example, we’ve found £59 million of savings in our budget proposals through efficiencies. Our own children’s service budget has reduced from £148 million to £114 million since 2011 and is facing further pressures over the next few years.
But we’ve taken this as an opportunity to look at how we were providing these services. Our transformation has seen our Ofsted rating rise from ‘inadequate’ to ‘good’ in 2014 and we’ve reduced the number of children in care from 1,615 in 2010 to 1,040 to date.
We’re now recognised as having one of the best children’s services in the country. In fact we’ve won awards for our work and the Department for Education is now utilising our staff to support other councils improve.
Another example is youth services, where our budget has reduced by £10 million in the last seven years. As a result, we stopped directly providing services and instead supported and empowered communities to run youth clubs and activities.
It’s been such a success that the number of young people we’re helping has risen from 25,485 in 2014/15 to 50,244 in 2016/17. The number of youth sessions has gone up from 5,359 to 12,954 in the same period.
It’s proof that councils aren’t always the best option to provide services, and local residents and organisations, with our support and guidance, can have a greater impact.
These are just some of the examples which prove our strong track record in efficiency and innovation is second to none.
We have saved over £350m in the last four years by driving out inefficiency, generating income and reducing costs. We will continue to adopt this approach going forward to ensure we are spending your money as effectively as possible.
I’m proud of the work we’ve done to provide a set of budget proposals which continue to protect and invest in the services residents rely on, while providing excellent value for money for taxpayers.