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New budget investments and changes proposed
The council’s cabinet will discuss changes and new investments to the council’s draft budget for 2023/24 next week (cabinet, 14th February, agenda item 4).
Among the changes include the withdrawal of a proposal to dim streetlights for longer overnight (see separate media release), five new investments, and changes to two car parking proposals.
The five new investments proposed include £50,000 for the NetPark wellbeing project which offers a free mental wellbeing specialist intervention for over 40 people a week, 48 weeks a year, to support mental health waiting lists in Southend. This one-year funding agreement would allow the project to continue for 2023/24 while more permanent funding is sought for 2024/25 onwards.
It is also proposed to invest £125,000 to support carers of adults looked after at home in need of financial support during this difficult period, and £140,000 to support tourism via the LuminoCity, Halloween Parade and Street Jam events in the 2023/24 financial year. School improvement and economic development will also see additional investment of £150,000 and £100,000 respectively. These will be funded through earmarked reserves.
Previous proposals to introduce car parking charges to Jones Memorial, Big Gunners, Little Gunners, and Rayleigh Road are set to go ahead, but it is now proposed that the first hour is free at these car parks.
Similarly, car parking charges are set to be introduced at Chalkwell Park, Priory Park, Belfairs Park and Southchurch Park from 2024/25, but the first three hours will be free rather than the two proposed previously.
In addition, proposals to remove general free parking for councillors across the city will continue as proposed, but they would retain free access to the underground carpark at Civic Centre to attend meetings and carry out their duties.
Cllr Stephen George, leader of the council, says: “Since the draft proposals were launched as part of our toughest budget for a decade, various consultations and discussions have taken place and many responses and suggestions received.
“As a Cabinet we have listened to feedback from residents, businesses, councillors and staff and balance that with the need for the Council to remain financially sustainable in these very difficult times of rising inflation, costs, demand, and pressure.
“Although we must find many millions of pounds of savings, thanks to the council’s good financial management over many years, we have been able to amend some previous proposals and also invest in other key priority areas. These changes are now included in the final budget proposals which will be recommended to Council for approval at the end of the month.”
Cllr Paul Collins, cabinet member for asset management and inward investment, says: “The national financial situation remains incredibly challenging and councils still find themselves in the difficult position of needing to increase charges to raise income, and also make savings to achieve a balanced budget. This means it has been the most difficult budget setting process for a decade.
"However, it is also important to listen to feedback, and that is exactly what we have done, with some amendments to our original proposals and some new investments to address key issues such as mental health, school improvement, support for carers and our business community and tourism.”
Following cabinet on 14 February, the budget for 2023/24 will be considered at Full Council on Thursday 23 February.
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