Stark warning from council leader: “You don’t know what’s coming”.

The Leader of Thurrock Council issued a stark reminder of the budget crisis facing the council at Wednesday’s meeting of the cabinet.

Cllr John Kent said: “I don’t think the people of Thurrock understand exactly what’s coming in the next year and more. It’s not surprising because I don’t think the majority of council staff or even some councillors have got it yet.

“Later this month the Government will be announcing how much grant we will be receiving and here in Thurrock we reckon that’s going to mean at least £15 million less for next year and probably £10 million less again in each of the following two years.”

Speaking outside the meeting, he explained: “That’s £35 million out of a budget of around £120 million or so. If your home’s income is now, say, £30,000 — for some easy maths — that means next year you’ll bring in £3,750 less, that’s £26,250; the year after, £2,500 less (£23,750) and the next year another £2,500!

“This means that if, in 2010 your total income was £30,000; by 2013 you’ll be living on £21,250. If your income is now £20,000, work it out … it’s frightening, then factor in inflation! Imagine what you’d have to do without; now imagine what we have to do and how it will hit the services we provide.”

Cllr Kent told the meeting: “The council could raise some — not a lot — but some of that money by increasing council tax. However, the people of Thurrock are facing enough hardship at the moment and I don’t think it right that we do that to them. I can announce here and now, that this administration wants a zero increase in council tax.”

Cllr Kent was speaking on two items — an update on austerity measures already undertaken in Thurrock, and the Thurrock’s Budget — Let’s Talk campaign.

The cabinet was told that a series of “austerity measures” were brought in when it became clear the council was overspending in the region of £1 million every other month with only around £2 million in reserves. In addition the government cut back on grants the council had been promised for this year.

Cllr Kent said: “If we hadn’t taken that emergency action, we’d be out of money by now.”

On the Let’s Talk campaign, the Leader added: “I was really heartened to see how many people took part, putting forward ideas and voting on the many proposals. Nearly 4,000 people took part with 167 ideas coming from the public and around 52,500 votes being recorded.

“Some of the ideas require a fair bit of work to see if they’re feasible, but others were simple, quick wins and we already have some of those in place.

“The idea of a handyman for the Civic Offices for example — no longer do we have to get in a contractor to do simple maintenance; and cancelling unused mobile phones is expected to save us thousands.”

After the meeting, Cllr Kent said: “I don’t want people concentrating on these budget issues to the exclusion of everything else. These are going to be hard times and we’re going to have to accept that, find new and innovative ways to provide our services and move forward.

“But these are also exciting times for Thurrock. We are uniquely placed with a massive regeneration agenda packed into a small borough. If we don’t drop the ball there, Thurrock and its people will come out of these troubling times healthier and richer.”

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