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Leigh-on-sea council tax to increase by 4.99%
Southend City Council's draft budget proposes tough choices to protect statutory services and keep financial control.
Draft council budget for 2024/25 is launched.
Cllr Tony Cox sitting at a desk in the Civic Centre. He is using a tablet connected to a keyboard attachment. Tough decisions to make over £14m of savings, protect statutory and essential services and ensure we keep our financial destiny in our own hands are at the centre of the council's proposed budget for 2024/25.
With pressure and demand for services rising the council faces tough financial times and cabinet councillors will discuss increasing council tax by 4.99% overall. (Cabinet item 7, Thursday 11 January). This is made up of 2.99% for general use and a further 2% to deal with the ongoing pressures and demand in adult social care.
The proposed rise of £1.39 a week for a Band C home (£1.04 for Band A, £1.22 for Band B and £1.56 for Band D*) will help protect statutory services and ensure that £19m of unavoidable cost pressures can be met in 2024/25. This includes £4.3m due to additional demand in children's and adult social care, £4.9m in payments to providers due to a rise in the national living wage and £600,000 due to energy rises.
New savings and increased income proposals will raise just over £14.3m, with a balanced net base budget of £150m for 2024/24. Savings and increased income proposed include:
£3.5m by rescheduling our debt repayments
£2.34m in team restructures, deleting of vacant posts and the removal of three director posts
£1.8m from higher returns on the council's financial investments
£775,000 from introducing an organisation wide ‘vacancy factor’ - this is where a small percentage of vacant roles to reflect staff turnover is budgeted for
£250,000 from a review of how our parks services is operated
£170,000 through making better use of the Civic Campus and closing Civic Two and The Tickfield Centre
£160,000 from increased cremation and burial charges
£100,000 from revising commercial terms for beach huts
The council will also need to continue to make savings in future years and transform how it works to meet an estimated budget gap of £35.1m from 2025/26 to 2028/29.
Previous proposals to review library services will no longer go ahead in 2024/25 and the council will continue to fund the role that supports the running of the NetPark project. Hourly parking charges will be frozen in 2024/25, and a proposal to reduce the community grant programme administered by Southend Association of Voluntary Services (SAVS) will not go ahead next year.
A separate cabinet report looking at finances up to the end of November 2023 also shows how the predicted in-year overspend had reduced by £4.5m at the end of period 8 from £10.8m to £6.3m.
Cllr Tony Cox, leader of the council, says: “This is a very tough budget setting, with difficult decisions to be made. There are no easy choices. The fact is we must bring in more money and raise charges, whilst reducing our spending in non-statutory areas so that can continue to protect and look after the children and adults that need our help. This is where most of your council tax is spent.
“The Government expects councils to raise council tax by 4.99% and we have no choice but to also do this. To not take these tough decisions could mean us facing a section 114 notice in the future which are declared when councils cannot balance their budgets. We must avoid that at all costs as that would mean we would lose control over our financial decisions and destiny. We do not want this.
“Along with our future funding gap of over £35m over the next four years, which this draft budget seeks to address, we have also been taking strong action to reduce our predicted overspend this year. I am pleased to see this reduce further to £6.3m by the end of November 2023. Whilst this is only 1.8% of our gross expenditure, we must get this as low as possible by the end of the financial year which will reduce the need for use of reserves to balance the budget.
“Unfortunately, there are no easy choices any longer, but we are committed to protecting statutory services, supporting those who need our help as best we can and keeping financial matters in our own hands. This means proposing difficult things and taking difficult decisions and that is exactly what we are doing.”
Several staffing restructures will take place and in total up to 80 full-time equivalent roles could be deleted from the organisation. This includes 29 roles that have been approved for voluntary redundancy following the recent call for applications.
Cllr Tony Cox, leader of the council, added: “With tough decisions being made, there are inevitably impacts on staff. As ever, every effort will be made to avoid compulsory redundancy, with vacant posts looked at first along with agency and interim arrangements. We will also look to use internal redeployment and voluntary redundancy as much as we can and work with the unions as we always do to support all staff affected.”
The draft budget follows two recent cabinet reports that agreed several difficult proposals to make savings, including a review and consultation into family centre services, stopping the council's contribution towards the dementia community support service, and agreeing alternate weekly collections as part of the new recycling and waste contract. Cabinet in December also considered several ideas from Councillors and approved bringing forward a planned rise in fees and charges to 1 January 2024 onwards.
Due to the financial climate, it is proposed that only a small number of new projects will be added to the council's capital programme which has been reduced overall.
The draft budget will be considered by the council's cabinet on Thursday 11 January and the council's Policy and Resources scrutiny committee on Thursday 1 February. Any changes to the draft budget will then be considered by cabinet on Tuesday 13 February, with the final budget to be discussed and approved at full council on Thursday 22 February.
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