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David Finch 

Leader of Essex County Council


Thursday, February 23, 2017

Guest Blog – Cllr John Spence, Cabinet Member for Finance

Focus, Fairness, Value and Creativity – these are the four guiding principles that underpin Essex County Council’s £1.8 billion budget.

Focus, because we recognise our responsibility to help those who need us most, particularly children, older people and those with disabilities.

Fairness, because we understand it would be unfair to ask already hard-pressed families to pay more than the 3 per cent social care levy increase we have implemented.

Value, because we recognise the need to deliver value for money for taxpayers by fiercely driving efficiency to ensure our services are of the highest quality and sustainable for future generations..

Creativity, because our organisation must continue to deliver innovative solutions and focus on utilising digital solutions to improve people’s lives, reshape public services and drive prosperity..

This budget is being balanced through savings and revenue generation. Due to our long-term financial prudence, we’ve saved £293 million in the last four years. Over the last seven years those savings rise to £597 million.

We’re also on track to save another £106 million by the end of the financial year, and our capital spending programme of £263 million is the largest in ECC’s history and a £39 million increase on last year.

But savings do not mean cuts. They are achieved by re-shaping services and the way we deliver them, off-setting future pressures such as inflation, and by generating new sources of income - that is, achieving savings to the taxpayers of Essex.

Following the autumn statement the Government gave councils the power to add a Social Care Precept onto Council Tax bills, something we’ve decided to implement to raise additional funds ring-fenced for social care.

We spend over £1.4 million a day on adult social care and this is only likely to rise as the number of people aged 85 and over is set to grow by 50 per cent in the next 10 years.

We’re saving money by reducing the need for long-term care, and focusing on preventative measures to help people live independently for longer, so we can concentrate on caring for Essex’s most vulnerable people.

But the 3 per cent increase isn’t enough for Essex, or indeed other councils nationwide. So we will continue to lobby government for a wholesale review of the system.

Despite all that, this administration has increased our adult social care spend by 13 per cent, while there has been a 6 per cent reduction in our net overall budget.

We’ve also driven down central administration costs by £32 million or 20 per cent, and by improving our council tax collection rates to 98 per cent and expanding the tax base, we have achieved an extra £30 million per annum to benefit Essex residents.

We’ve also increased non council tax and non-grant income to £120 million by operating more commercially.

One of the biggest achievements of this administration is the rise in the number of schools rated Good or Outstanding by Ofsted – up from 70 per cent to 91.8 per cent, meaning children across Essex are getting a better education. And we’ve been able to deliver 8,817 new school places to meet the demand of our growing population.

This budget sets aside £315m to create another 13,000 places.

We have also spent millions improving transport infrastructure and defects on major routes are at a record low. This budget pledges £233 million on highways, infrastructure and public transport.

It is necessary and laudable to manage today, but it takes courage, inventiveness and resilience to create the future. This Council will continue to create a better future for the residents of Essex.

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