Councillor Halden said that Officers and Members were working hard to balance the budget and expected that there would be difficult days ahead due to the current recession. It was expected that there would be an increase in people accessing the care services or entering care so expenses could increase. The Economic Vulnerability Task Force had been working to help frontline services such as Inspire, the early offer of help through the Children’s Centres and Youth Offending Service that continued to tackle gang violence and had just appointed a new gang lead in the service.
On top of the £350,000 increase provided to the fostering service back in July, there was also the proposal of a council tax exemption for foster carers. This would highlight the Council’s commitment to Thurrock’s foster carers and reduce the Council’s reliance on external agency workers which would help the budget. The World of Work funding had been restored and the service had been consulting on the Economic Recovery Strategy which considered care leavers and those with learning disabilities so it was not a generic employment strategy. Councillor Halden highlighted the need for Members to work together to direct finances to frontline services and for the vulnerable. The focus on services for children was intensified in these times and not decreased.
The Chair thanked Councillor Halden for providing an update and was pleased to hear the continued commitment to tackling gang violence.
Councillor Muldowney commented that September 2020 government figures had highlighted that more young people had been furloughed as they had been working in sectors most effected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The number of unemployed young people was likely to rise significantly by Christmas 2020 and Thurrock’s unemployment rate was currently at 12%. An external report had stated that Thurrock was one of the most effected by the pandemic as most of Thurrock’s jobs were in the most impacted sectors so Thurrock was highlighted as an area that did not recover as rapidly as other areas. She did not feel the Economic Vulnerability Task Force was doing enough and questioned the steps that were being taken to tackle youth unemployment in Thurrock.
Councillor Halden said that detailed briefings were provided in the Economic Vulnerability Task Force and other Members were invited to join. He stated that Thurrock’s youth unemployment figure was not 12% and Thurrock’s young people ‘Not in Employment, Education, Training’ (NEET) percentage was around 1.5%, better than the national average. He went on to say that the service had met with the Department for Work and Pensions to discuss the budget process and continued to support the Inspire service despite other Councils decreasing their careers advice service. Inspire provided more than just career advice as it also provided housing advice and mental health advice. He said that new job opportunities would be created through the Local Plan which would be brought forward soon.
Councillor Muldowney agreed that the NEET figure was low but pointed out that Thurrock’s youth unemployment was currently 12% and were claiming benefits which was on the Government’s website and that the overall unemployment rate for Thurrock was above the national average. Councillor Halden reiterated that more people would be accessing social care services and urged Members to respond to the Economic Development Strategy Consultation which looked at more than just new job opportunities as it also ensured that young people leaving further education would be supported.
Referring to the Council Tax Exemption scheme, Councillor Okunade sought clarification on whether the scheme had already been agreed. She also questioned how the effectiveness of the scheme would be measured and if it would be a permanent scheme. Councillor Halden confirmed that the Council Tax Exemption scheme had not been agreed yet and would be considered at Cabinet next week. He had announced it in the press as he was the Portfolio Holder and wanted to highlight that it was a big tax exemption for foster carers which very few boroughs in the country did. There would be more details given when the report would be heard later on that evening.