Councillor Hebb introduced the
report by stating that as the Council had a balanced budget it
meant genuine choice for residents and ensured services were
protected. He thanked the Cabinet and officer team for all their
hard work on the budget and listed a number of key elements in the
report. The first of these was the Council Spending Review as this
embedded the policy of fewer buildings, better services which
benefitted residents. He used the example of the children’s
centre reforms as the centralised system reached 90% of Thurrock
families and still offered a quality service. The second point he
raised was that commercial objectives had been embedded which
increased revenue for the Council and thanked the newly appointed
commercial team for their hard work. He then drew the
Committee’s attention to the success of the Thameside Theatre
as due to the commercial investment it was now commercially
Councillor Hebb added that income also came to the Council from council tax and business rates. He mentioned that residents perceived their council tax only paid for grass cutting and bin collections, which he highlighted were still weekly, but stated that council tax also paid for vital services such as adult social care. He mentioned that adult social care needed funding as people were beginning to live longer and therefore suffered more ailments and illnesses. He then discussed how the Conservative central government did not want people on lower incomes to face an increased tax burden, and Thurrock Council agreed as more than 40% of Thurrock workers were on lower incomes.
He then stated that Thurrock Council would not be raising their council tax at all during the next financial year, and this was due to the fact that no part of the Council’s economic plan was dependent on each other, and the fact the Council were commercially investing. He also stated that Thurrock Council had not undertaken any arbitrary top-down cuts to fund this, and the Council still ensured services remained dependable. He added that Thurrock had funded 23 new police officers, new schools, new integrated medical centres, and new homes, as well as undertaking essential services such as cutting the grass and filling potholes. He finally reiterated the point that council tax would be frozen across the borough for the next financial year.
Councillor Collins congratulated Councillor Hebb and all the officers for their hard work on the balanced budget, and stated a high bar had been set. He felt that residents would be thankful for the council tax freeze. Councillor Halden added that Essex County Council had increased their council tax by an average of £50 per year, even though they had fewer responsibilities compared to Thurrock. He felt that efficiencies could always be made in local government, but that Thurrock was always innovating and the council tax freeze showed they had confidence. The Leader added that the £50 increase in council tax from Essex County Council did not include the increase in preceptors, and stated Thurrock Council did not have these as they are a unitary authority. He also highlighted Councillor Hebb’s point on children’s centre reform as this had saved money and delivered a better service to people. He thanked Councillor Hebb and his team for all his hard work. The Leader went on to describe his first day as Leader when he had walked round Grays town centre and had felt ‘ankle deep’ in rubbish. He stated that an external body had proven there was less rubbish, and residents felt the streets were cleaner too. The Leader then described how council tax was not linked to income, but was linked to a property figure that had been introduced in 1992 which needed refreshing. He felt that although people may be asset-rich, they could be cash-poor, so council tax hit them the hardest. The Leader finally thanked the Director of Finance and IT for all his good work, and felt the Council were in a good positon compared to other local authorities.
Councillor Watkins thanked Councillor Hebb, the Director of Finance and IT and his team for all their hard work and felt the long term financial plan was working. He added this helped the highways and environment department as they could grow their service, for example through initiatives such as the ‘Kerb It’ Scheme. He added that the statistics also proved this as Thurrock performed well in the Keep Britain Tidy Scheme, and had filled all potholes on time in November despite the weather.
RESOLVED: That Cabinet:
1. Noted the assumption of a 0% Council Tax increase for 2019/20.
2. Noted this draft budget and ask Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee to comment and make recommendations back to Cabinet in February ahead of Full Council.