NEARLY two dozen members of community forums across Thurrock came to the Civic Offices in Grays on Monday (2 February) evening to discuss the council’s budget challenge.
The two hour meeting saw debate range from ensuring not excluding those people who are not computer literate or happy to engage online from accessing services, to raising council tax to protect the same services.
The meeting was opened by Council Leader Cllr John Kent and heard from Chief Executive Graham Farrant and Head of Finance Sean Clark, who explained how the council faced funding cuts to day-to-day services, but could still invest in housing and building or infrastructure projects.
Mr Clark also explained The Â£60 million Thurrock had already taken out of its budget since 2010, the year-on-year cuts to the government grants and the further reductions expected to come.
Among suggestions from the floor were finding "innovative ways" of utilising housing and capital money to support the General Fund, which Cllr Kent said was being done, although the council had to remain within the law while doing so.
There was great concern for the future of youth services locally, and the discussion took in the use of community halls, grass cutting plans, possible changes to brown bin collections, libraries, subsidised bus routes, and funding the Tilbury ferry.
Increasing demand on adult services, the placing of children in care and the future of the Linford tip were also mentioned, along with the need for the council to better explain what it has to provide by law, and the services it chooses to provide – those particularly under threat.
Speaking afterwards, Cllr Kent said: "We had a very mature and interesting discussion. This is the sort of thing I want to do more often in the future.
"These forum chairs and vice chairs really know their communities and were able to tell us face-to-face what concerns people have.
"In the main those concerns echo my own, but two things really stood out for me.
"The first was concern for youth services. Hopefully I was able to provide some hope there. Many youth services are not statutory – the things we must do – but I was able to explain our youth team are looking at radically different ways of continuing the service.
"And secondly I must admit being taken aback by the apparent enthusiasm for increasing council tax charges. It was raised twice by different people and both said how many would rather pay a bit more to maintain much-needed services.
"That’s something we may investigate further as the cuts continue to bite hard, although as I said at the time, it would be a brave council that went for a rate over the government’s cap."
He added: "All in all it proved a fascinating debate and discussion, well worth repeating. I would like to say thank you to each and every forum member who came and contributed."