More spending to support our community and care for our most vulnerable children and adults are at the centre of the council’s proposed budget for 2022/23.
With major financial challenges both behind and in front of the council, and with Government funding having reduced significantly in the last eleven years, cabinet councillors will consider increasing council tax by 3.99% overall, and in line with the 2021/22 increase. (Cabinet item 9, 13 January).
This is made up of 1.99% for general use and a further 2% will be used to deal with the ongoing pressures and demand in adult social care. One per cent of this precept has been carried over from 2021/22 when council tax rose by 3.99% as opposed to 4.99% in over 70% of unitary areas.
This ‘precept’ and other council investment, including £380,000 for children’s services will be used to look after the most vulnerable people in our Borough, from the young to old.
The proposed rise of £1.02p a week for a Band C home, 77p for Band A, 89p for Band B and £1.15p for Band D*, will help protect frontline services and see £5.5m invested to meet additional demand in adult social care services, help improve pay and conditions for care workers, support providers and increase the essential living fund budget. Investment in children’s services will see five new children’s social workers employed and the introduction of advanced practitioners scheme which help to recruit and retain experienced qualified social workers.
There will also be key investment into commitments to create a greener future, invest in recovery and improve local neighbourhoods. This includes £120,000 investment to stop the use of glyphosate in parks and open spaces and a further £250,000 investment into the community safety team, to provide additional community safety officers and an operations coordinator.
Savings and new income will raise just over £5m. The predicted use of £2.5m of reserves in 2021/22 has not been used due to the good in-year financial management of the council’s budget, so this can now be used to support the 2022/23 budget alongside the use of £1.5m of the collection fund surplus to set a balanced net base budget of £140.3m for 2022/23. The council will also need to meet an expected budget gap of an estimated £24m up to 2027.
To support evening parking pressures in the central seafront area, charging hours along the Zone 1a parking area will be extended to 9pm. Enforcement hours will be increased to support these restrictions. Southend Pass holders will be able to use their pass during these extended hours. It is proposed that the Cliffs Pavilion and Shorefield Road car park will remain chargeable to 6pm only.
It is also proposed that £12.6m is added to the council’s main capital investment programme – the main addition being a further £10m for the roads and footways programme with a further £34m of schemes to be added across the next five years subject to being affordable and deliverable. This includes £18.5m from the housing revenue account (HRA) to continue turning more private homes into council housing, continue the decent homes programme and buy-back ex-council homes.
Cllr Ian Gilbert, leader of the council, says: “Setting a balanced budget gets tougher and tougher each year, but I am pleased that we have been able to propose a draft budget that focusses on protecting the most vulnerable people in our soon to be City.
“We are seeing more and more people needing our ongoing support, and we will do all we can to provide that help and have budgeted accordingly. Over 65% of our budget goes into adult and children’s services and it is right that we continue to focus on protecting those areas.
“We also have a draft budget that focus on tackling climate change, investing in our economic recovery and regeneration and the continued drive to improve local areas.”
This follows on from many years of Government funding reductions. Although the main grant has increased slightly this year (3%), it has reduced from £64m in April 2011 to an estimated £6.25m in April 2022, a cut of over 90%. The main Government grant received next year will therefore only account for 4.45% of the council’s net budget, as opposed to 50% in 2011.
Cllr Paul Collins, cabinet member for corporate services and performance delivery: “Huge cuts to local government finance over the last decade means that the vast majority of our funding for services now comes from council tax, business rates and other fees and charges, and that has undoubtedly had an impact on the services we can provide, at a time when pressure and demand on services continues to rise.
“At the same time we still face the continued uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic and with the implications of EU exit and country’s economic position alongside this, we continue to strive to deliver good services and to make our soon to be City a more attractive place for residents, businesses and visitors.”
The draft budget will be considered by the council’s cabinet on Thursday 13 January, the council’s three scrutiny committees at the start of February, with the final budget to be discussed and approved at Full Council on Thursday 24 February.