Council to launch 'Bank of Essex'

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The Independent Online

A "Bank of Essex" is to be set up to help small businesses struggling to win investment because of the credit crunch, under plans being examined by the county council. The proposal for a bank, which would be a central point for help in accessing European funds, is part of a wider plan to help the local economy, which includes a new credit union, Essex Savers, and an Essex Apprentice scheme, which would create 40 new jobs initially.

About 30,000 of the most vulnerable households in Essex would receive a payment equivalent to £100 off the council tax early next year.

The leader of Essex County Council, Lord Hanningfield, said the Bank of Essex idea had been inspired by regio-nal banks in the US. "We want to try to support businesses in difficult times. The situation in Essex for the next year does not look good. If the banks won't help them, someone has to," he said.

Lord Hanningfield said a team of staff would report on the proposal in days. Local authorities in Essex will invest nearly £1bn supporting the county's economy in 2008-09.

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