By Local Democracy Reporter
COUNCILLORS will vote on the Conservative administration’s latest budget proposals next week, including a freeze on council tax.
The final meeting on the 2019/20 budget will be held on Wednesday evening and councillors are expected to discuss numerous investment proposals, such as the regeneration of Grays town centre, highways infrastructure improvements and more money for community policing.
One of the more controversial decisions is to freeze the council’s portion of council tax, which goes against recommendations made by officers.
A major factor in this is the Government’s expectation that all councils will raise tax and will therefore reduce the percentage of business rates retained by the council based on the assumption that Thurrock has £2.8million more in income than it actually does.
A motion from Independent Councillor Jack Duffin will be presented at the same meeting, calling on the council to write to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to reverse this policy.
A report also notes that while the council’s reserves are in a good position for 2019/20, things become more “challenging” longer term as a result of the freeze on council tax.
The council’s chief financial officer writes in the report: “Whilst the Medium-Term Financial Strategy (MTFS) shows this as affordable for 2019/20, the result is a loss of £11m over the life of the MTFS [which ends in 2023] and £2.1million per annum from the base for every year going forward.”
He adds: “Whilst being able to confirm that I believe the budget to be robust due to the Council’s financial position, this should not be considered an endorsement of the council tax recommendation.”
Members of the council’s cabinet acknowledged in a meeting last week that they had received recommendations to raise council tax but said they would “ignore” it.
They went on to praise the budget for delivering projects that were “significant” compared to other councils and Councillor James Halden, who oversees education and health, labelled it a budget “to be proud of”.
He went on to highlight how Thurrock is investing more in areas such a children’s mental health than Essex County Council.
Other projects included in the budget are £33million to be spent on widening the A13, £12million on Purfleet redevelopment and £4million on school expansions.
A further £1million to be spent over three years on six new police officers focussed on community policing and investment in mental health services.
Despite the council freezing their portion of council tax, households will be hit with an increase of £24 to pay for the police’s portion which will go towards the recruitment of new police officers.