Essex County Council is set to hike council taxes by 1.49 per cent this year, in order to raise an additional £2.9 million. This means that the Council, which receives 73p in every pound of Council Tax paid by Essex households, has also lost the right to a central government grant available to councils who freeze taxes or keep increases beneath 1 per cent.
This tax increase is an unnecessary imposition on households that have seen the cost of living spiral in recent years as a result of high taxes, stagnant wages, expensive housing and botched government energy policy. Essex could save millions of pounds by cutting wasteful spending instead.
Over the last three years, Essex County Council has spent £50.6 million on external consultants, and £39.6 million on temporary staff. That’s a shocking £90 million, or £30 million a year.
The Council spent £3.3 million on an extra lane on the A176 near Basildon Hospital, in order to ease traffic congestion - a move branded a “huge waste of taxpayers’ money” by Councillor Kerry Smith who pointed out that the problem could be solved for much less by removing a pedestrian crossing instead.
It spent £2.3m on ‘compromise agreements’ over the last 6 years. These have been condemned as an attempt to gag outgoing employees by opposition leader Julie Young, who branded the move “excessive”.
In addition, 36 Essex employees received over £100,000 remuneration in 2011-12. Pruning this back would save taxpayers a packet.
Councillors might consider reading the TaxPayers' Alliance’s report on 201 ways to cut council tax, which recommends sharing services and personnel, combining senior management posts of finance director and chief executive, freezing recruitment, and considering the formation of unitary authorities out of county councils and their numerous districts.
75 per cent of county councils are planning to hike council tax this year. With central grant funding for councils falling by 43 per cent over the life of the current parliament, critics have warned that without extra revenue, vital local services will be underfunded and councils pushed towards failure.
However, supporters of high government spending have been increasingly shown to be wrong, with six out of ten local residents telling a recent ICM poll that their services had either stayed the same or actually improved since budget reductions.
Hammersmith and Fulham Council has managed to cut council tax by 20 per cent since 2006 by sharing services and staff with neighbouring councils, and selling unused council-owned buildings.
There are literally tens of millions of pounds worth of savings that could be made without cutting a single library, care home, bin lorry or policeman. Essex County Council should spare a thought for thousands of hard-pressed Essex families and think again before hiking taxes.