Today saw Essex County Council meet for Full Council in the Chamber for the first time since March 2019.
There was a jam-packed agenda covering the Council’s Strategy - a plan for ‘Everyone’s Essex’ - setting out the vision for the future of the County. The Strategy was underpinned by the Autumn Statement which sets the scene of Essex’s current financial position and the challenges ahead as we set a budget that will meet the councils’ priorities. Also at the meeting, there was a motion that reaffirmed the Council’s ambition to ‘Levelling up’ working with local and national partners to unleash the potential of the County.
The Leader of Council, Cllr Kevin Bentley, set out the administrations ambitious plans. Stating that the council he leads would be holding itself to “a higher standard” - as well as continuing to ensure the council spends taxpayers’ money wisely and delivers excellent services, it will work to change lives and unleash opportunity for all.
He went on to say that the strategy he was presenting provided “the foundations on which his administration will renew the parts of our county that have suffered through the pandemic, close the inequality gaps that frustrate opportunity, and above all ignite ambition for the people and places we are privileged to represent.”
Cllr Bentley also described the sense of renewal which the strategy hopes to achieve, the council will challenge itself to act in a “more joined-up, more collaborative, more open-minded, more imaginative way.” The Conservative-led administration will build partnerships across the system and create new pathways that will be the foundation of our collective success.
The strategy reaffirmed the County’s commitment to key services - working to ensure good health in our communities, not just in hospitals, promoting healthy lifestyles through Active Essex and supporting the most vulnerable. Education also remains a key priority, working to improve educational outcomes – the Education task funds focuses minds on this vital area and in recent months the summer reading challenge and summer camps have provided educational support for thousands of Essex’s `Children.
The strategy also set out the ambition to invest in and stimulate the Essex Economy, supporting businesses and creating jobs. As well as enhancing broadband provision across our county , supporting business and public services, for example this has been shown with the NHS Digital Innovation Zone to support connecting 51 surgeries to ultrafast broadband to improve patients’ access to digital services.
At the heart of the strategy was a commitment to climate action – working towards a net-zero county – with a £500 million fund to support this ambition. In recent months works have begun to replace all 128,000 streetlights in Essex with LEDs saving 6500 tonnes of carbon per year and resulting in a long-term saving to the Council of £39 million. Further to this a new ‘Fit for the Future Strategy’ has been launched, which has seen a multi-million-pound bike scheme to support residents’ desire to be more active introduced in Clacton and Jaywick Sands.
Councillor Bentley reflected on the achievements of the first 100 days which showed what is possible and the importance of keeping up this momentum over the next 1000 days to “create the opportunities for our residents that they deserve.”
In the motion on ‘Levelling up,’ Cllr Louise McKinlay stressed that Essex was leading the way to ensure that no one is left behind. She stressed that the Council is closely aligned with the ambition of the national Government and would ensure that their voice was heard around the table.
In tandem with ‘Everyone’s Essex’ the Cabinet Member for Finance, Cllr Chris Whitbread gave the ‘Autumn Budget Statement’ to facilitate the council's ambitions and ensuring that the £1.4 billion budget is delivered in the most positive way for Essex residents. The budget includes exciting capital projects to support the ‘building back’ of the County as we recover from Covid through infrastructural projects such as schools and highways.
Cllr Whitbread set out the financial challenges which face the authority in the years ahead. At the forefront of this is the cost of Adult Health and Social Care, as the Conservative motion set out – this Conservative administration has unwavering support for the care sector who have done a fantastic job throughout the pandemic. They welcome the Government’s commitment to finding a funding solution and will work through the budget process to ensure Essex’s care system gets the support it requires and deserves.
While the economic prospects provide challenges for the year ahead, the Conservative-led council looks forward with positivity and optimism as we work to deliver on ‘Everyone’s Essex’ and level up the County.