Thurrock Council has set a balanced budget for the next year, meaning that services residents use and depend on are budgeted for until the end of March 2022.
An increase in council tax of 1.99% and a 3% increase on the adult social care precept have been approved to help ensure that social care and services to help those hit hardest by the adult-centric, once-in-a-hundred year, health crisis, are protected.
Leader of Thurrock Council, Cllr Rob Gledhill, said: "Dealing with the fallout from the pandemic has caused £17m worth of pressure to our council in this financial year. While the government has provided around £15m to help, there has still been an extra impact on council finances of around £2m.
"It has been a tough year for everyone, and the increases which have been agreed will ensure that we are able to provide care for those who need it most, something which is incredibly important at all times but is now more important than ever. An extra £2m raised through the adult social care precept will be used for paying for homecare, residential care for older people and to meet an increased demand for complex care.
"The £1.35m raised through the increase in council tax will be spent primarily on children's social care, providing support and care for those who are most vulnerable and in need. It is a shame not all members voted to support investment in adult social care.
"We will also be spending more on providing PPE (personal protective equipment) for staff and ensuring that our workplaces are COVID-secure for those staff who are working in frontline jobs, providing essential services to keep our borough clean, our roads safe, and our residents supported in these challenging times.
"Those who have been hit hardest by the impact of coronavirus and whose income has been severely affected may be eligible for the Local Council Tax Support Scheme (LCTS). This provides Thurrock residents of working age and who meet the criteria with an opportunity to reduce their council tax bill by up to 75%. We have budgeted £8.5million to this scheme, an increase of £700,000 on last year, to assist those who are most in need.
"The increase amounts to 99p a week for 70% of households in the borough and of that amount 60p will go directly to funding social care. Thurrock's council tax is around £100 cheaper than neighbouring council areas and remains the lowest in Essex.
Cllr Shane Hebb, Cabinet member for finance, said: "COVID-19 has been a once-in-a-hundred-year event – it has impacted everyone, and everything.
"Our historical financial planning in previous years means we have trebled our reserves, nor have we needed to perform in year emergency budgets – something other councils have had to during the tough financial year we have faced.
"Like many councils, Thurrock will be making some use of its reserves – £3.3m, out of a total of £24m. Had we not trebled our reserves since 2016, we would have been left with a reserve of just £4.7m, which is just 3.9% of annual net expenditure. That is what we spend each year on domiciliary (home) care for infirm residents, and there are many other services that we need to sustain, all as critical as each other.
"As promising as the vaccine has been fo our nation, the fact is that the pandemic is not over and we have no certainty that life is going to return to normal. The impacts will be long-felt beyond anything we have experienced before. Services such as adult social care are going to be experiencing changing and growing difficulties as we emerge out of the pandemic – we cannot risk depleting our reserves and being left having an insufficient safety net for those services critical to residents, ahead of knowing for sure when the impacts of pandemic will be fully felt.
"The budget that has been passed is also a budget which makes sure the regeneration and infrastructure needed to rebuild our economy will be at the heart of our recovery efforts."