Posted: 05.01.21 at 19:32 by The Editor
THURROCK Council’s ruling Conservative group have brushed aside what appears to be a growing financial black hole and has issued a relatively upbeat message to residents this evening, speaking of the "resilience in council finances" as it prepares to set its budget for the next financial year.
Despite significant help from the government, over the next three years the council now expects to run at a loss totaling £42.461 million - and to help counter that is planning to put up council tax in April by 4.99 per cent! That's just .01 per cent less than the maxim it is allowed and would see a band D household bill jump by approaching £100, while those in the priciest H band could pay more than £200 extra.
In a message to residents and in a report to next week’s cabinet meeting, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Finance and Transformation Cllr Shane Hebb glosses over the potential net loss of more than £20 million from one of its investments that has gone sour, and he focuses instead on the revenues to be generated from a three per cent adult social care precept increase in April which will be added to a projected 1.99 per cent increase in general taxation – taking the borough to the increase limit allowed by the government.
Cllr Hebb does acknowledge that a significant part of the cash shortfall is because of a much lower return on its investment strategy - which is currently suspended – but he is sparse on detail.
He does add that the council will also be looking to make savings of £5,656,000 next year, £4m of which will be saved by not filling vacant jobs.
Cuts to pay and conditions of staff, targeted mainly at the lower end of the payscale, will see another million saved. Members of the Unite union and workers in the council’s environment and care teams have already told how they fear for their jobs and pay in 2021 as the cuts bite.
The council has issued a statement this evening which includes comment from Cllr Hebb.
It reads: “ Thurrock Council has published its draft budget for 2021/22, showing a balanced budget for the forthcoming year despite the direct and indirect impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The budget position is possible due to government grant support and resilience in council finances, notably the enlarged reserves position built from the council’s investment approach.
In line with the government’s Spending Review 2020, Thurrock Council’s Cabinet will hear recommendations for a 3% Adult Social Care precept increase, and a 1.99% council tax increase.
Cllr Hebb said “We thank the government for its grant funding support, and are secure in the knowledge that the reserves we built up have helped withstand this once-in-a-hundred year event. Our reserves will only be partially used, with a majority remaining intact.
“The impact of COVID-19 has meant the council has needed to invest significantly more in services which protect those most vulnerable adults and children in our borough, whilst at the same time some income streams have been impacted.
“The investment approach enabled more time to carry out a review of the services the council offers, and whilst some services have been reformed, we were able to fund additional services above what a council has to do. Reserves can only be used as a one off support – and therefore service reviews are being implemented faster and will be a bigger part of the council’s budget approach moving forward as we face the financial pressures of 2022/23 and beyond.”
The service reviews that Cllr Hebb mentions appear to relate to its ‘downsizing’ plans, revealed in an exclusive Thurrock Nub News report last month that could mean an end to the council funding for extra police in the borough and a reduction in the council’s flagship cleaner and greener policies.
The full report to be put to next week’s cabinet meeting (Wednesday, 13 January) can be read in full here.