Essex County Council has agreed a budget that freezes its share of council tax for the fourth successive year and pledges additional money for flood management, schools improvement and road repairs across the county.

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The council had originally proposed a 1.49% Council Tax increase, but then decided last week to freeze it after receiving additional income of around £10million from the county’s borough, district and city councils, which came, it said, as a result of economic growth and greater council tax collection figures.

The council said it would be spending this additional money in a number of areas including £2 million to put in place flood management measures and £1m for an Essex School Improvement Fund to raise standards and leadership in schools – especially primary schools. An extra £4.8m to go towards road repairs in the wake of the recent bad weather was also announced - in addition to £12 million for roads that had already been allocated.

Other money pledges from the general allocation included £1.4 million to help people with physical and learning needs to live as independent lives as possible and £500,000 to create 260 more apprenticeship places.

Critics said more should be spent to boost youth services and help those on lower incomes.

The budget for the next financial year was presented at a meeting of the full council at County Hall in Chelmsford yesterday by leader David Finch.

Councillor Finch said it was a ’budget of difficult choices’ with more tough decisions needed in the future. The council needs to save at least £235 million by 2017, with £107 million savings being made in 2014/15

He said: “This is a budget which balances priorities, makes people’s money go further and keeps as much money in the pockets of our residents as possible. While we have been able to freeze council tax and achieve a balanced budget for 2014/15, further work is needed to fully balance budgets for 2015/16 and 2016/17.”

But leader of the Labour Group, Julie Young, said it was right that the council hadn’t raised the council tax because it had failed to spend over £90m it had pledged in last year’s budget announcement.

“You can’t ask the taxpayer for more money when you have been sitting on £90m,” she said.

Mrs Young proposed an additional £1m should be put towards a “delivery fund” to find out why allocated budgets weren’t being spent and to identify the “blockages” in the system.

She also criticised the council for not spending any of the extra £10 million in help people struggling on low incomes.

She said: “Much of the additional money has come from taxes raised through changes to the welfare system and people have made savings and paid their due. But we have seen no funding for areas that might help these people, such setting up a credit union, help for the voluntary sector and more for youth services.”

The Liberal Democrats said they wanted to see more done to support jobs and young people, and fix roads and paths, by spending £10 million from spare cash in council coffers.

Lib Dem leader Cllr Mike Mackrory said: “We have listened to the concerns of Essex residents and proposed actions to address them. The youth service does so much good for young people, with an already small budget.

“To cut the youth service budget by 86% over four years is an outrage and very short-sighted, and to add insult to injury they are stopping low income 17-year-olds getting to college.

“They should do more to help small businesses grow and are failing to address the huge rise in road and pavement faults.”

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