Councillor Hebb introduced the
report and stated that the Council currently faced a choice to
either increase taxation for residents in
future, or reform services and reduce the size of the
Council. Councillor Hebb explained that reform of services would
bring about a larger change, as council tax receipts would reduce
due to the impact of COVID, and the outstanding tax bill would be
rolled forward into the next financial year. He added that
currently a number of services would not earn due to the pandemic,
and therefore numerous difficult decisions had to be made. He
mentioned that in previous years £100m earned in investments
would have helped to balance the budgets, but due to new rules
against Council investments, Thurrock could no longer undertake
Councillor Hebb explained that the future plan would be to reform services and change delivery, for example by focussing on the core services offered by the Council. He stated that Thurrock would look into the sale of assets, and how some services could be undertaken in different surroundings. He added that some services offered by the Council were discretionary and could not be offered post-COVID, and this would mean some non-critical posts, particularly relating to capital projects, could not be maintained. He explained that staff structures would therefore be reformed and projects would not be taken forward. He explained that these proposals would be put to the relevant Overview and Scrutiny Committee for their comments and feedback, to promote openness and authenticity. He added that officers would also be looking to income generation, for example through house building. Councillor Hebb summarised and stated that tough decisions would need to be made, but it would produce a more sustainable council, and would reduce the deficit to approximately £3.7m.
Councillor Spillman felt that the poor narrative surrounding the investment approach had not helped confidence in the scheme, and this had reduced the Council’s income by £100m. He felt that officers had done a good job on the investment strategy, and Thurrock had not made the same mistakes as other councils who had invested in property. He thanked the Corporate Director of Resource and Place Delivery for his hard work on the budget and the investment strategy, and added that it would be good to see future income from the Freeport, which would benefit both the Council and residents. Councillor Hebb echoed Councillor Spillman’s comments and added that the investment strategy had also helped Thurrock work towards their carbon neutral goal. He felt that the investment strategy had also made Thurrock more entrepreneurial, and although investments could no longer continue, Thurrock would continue to look at all income options.
The Leader stated that Thurrock would need to embrace change in the future and become smarter in regards to ways of working. He felt that lots of tough decisions would need to be made in the future, particularly surrounding reshaping services. He stated that the Freeport would help improve tax receipts in future, and would increase confidence in Thurrock.
RESOLVED: That Cabinet:
1. Noted and commented on the financial forests included within the report.
2. Noted the ongoing work of officers and will receive a further report in September.
3. Recommended that the proposals set out in Appendix 1 be considered by the relevant Overview and Scrutiny Committee, and be referred back to Cabinet in September 2021.
Reason for decision: as outlined in the report
This decision is subject to call-in