Braintree District Council is planning to invest millions in the Braintree District on improvements to health provision, town centres, new business, roads and infrastructure
The move comes as part of a new strategy which, if agreed by Cabinet on May 23, could see the district council investing in issues not normally the responsibility of the council through a District Investment Strategy to make Braintree, Witham and Halstead and the surrounding rural areas better places to live and work.
Helping the NHS provide residents with better access to GPs in the district is one of the first matters that will be tackled with the council looking to invest £3 million in Witham primary care. Leader Cllr Graham Butland wants to use money from the sale of the Bramston Sports Centre in Witham to help the NHS and local GPs deliver new medical facilities for the town.
Cllr Butland said: I want the best for residents in our district. We can t just stand on the sidelines knowing that health facilities in our district need to be better: we ve got to put our money where our mouth is and I hope this encourages other partners to do the same. I want to use our financial position which comes as a result of prudent financial management to tackle some of the issues affecting our residents. We re already improving health in the district for example we ve invested in our leisure centres and our local GPs are also using the centres to offer patients access to exercise where it is preferable to prescribing medication.
The planned move has been welcomed by the town s MP Priti Patel and NHS Mid Essex CCG who will be working alongside Witham GPs to progress the proposals for the new health care premises.
Priti Patel, Witham MP, said: Witham is a growing town and in need of new health facilities. I have been campaigning for a new multi-purpose healthcare centre to be established in the town and the commitment being shown by Braintree District Council with this investment is welcome. Our partners in the NHS and other services should now have the confidence to come forward and support the delivery of new health services in the town from the new facility the Council is supporting.
James Cleverly, Braintree MP, said: This is an imaginative approach and a prudent use of taxpayers money. It will help to unlock improvements in the delivery of public services, support new health facilities and provide an opportunity to regenerate and boost our town centres. I am pleased to see that Braintree District Council is already working with NHS England and Mount Chambers GP Practice in Braintree as part of its regeneration of the site behind Braintree Town Hall.
Cllr Graham Butland continued: We re not a health provider and we don t manage our congested main roads but we have land and through prudent financial management we have money which we want to invest in the district. We can do more locally to help in terms of better health provision, regeneration of our towns and other infrastructure. We re in a unique position to invest money to deliver the improvements we all want and need and we will use that investment to create returns that we will continue to plough in to our communities for years to come.
Read the cabinet papers here
Braintree District Council is already supporting public health in the district for example its contract with Fusion Lifestyle completed its 3rd year in Aug 2015 and continues to perform well. There has been a significant increase on membership across all sites. Braintree District Council has invested 10 million in its leisure centres since 2012 across the district to support our resident s public health.
Within Cabinet reports due to be discussed on May 23 the Council s financial position statement for 2015/16 shows that the council actual revenue is more than what was budgeted for (an overall positive variance of £1.83m (11.7%) against the original budget of £15.624m.)
The main reason for the overall positive variance is an over achievement of income of £1.533m. Primarily in three areas: planning application fees (£0.51m), additional council tax collected shared with Essex County Council, Police & Crime Commissioner and Essex Fire Authority (£0.36m) and Housing Benefit overpayments recovered (£0.19m).
These are three areas where it is difficult to set a budget either because it is demand driven (planning applications) or it is derived from actions taken; for example cracking down on those who claim council tax discount (single persons discount or local council tax support) but aren t entitled to it.
It is a strong position however the Council still has challenges ahead – it will lose central government grant by 2020 and is still working to close a financial gap of £1.375m by 2020. The Council s approach is to, where possible, increase income, improve returns on its investments and assets and reduce expenditure where it does not or has least impact on service delivery.