City Council leader reacts to Autumn statement with budget warning

Reacting to the national autumn budget statement yesterday, Cllr Stephen George, leader of the council, says:

Civic Centre Building and fountain

“With a net reduction in funding and the onus on local Government to deliver council tax rises and significant cuts in services to balance the books, the national autumn statement was disappointing but not entirely unexpected. It has also been confirmed that our core grant will be frozen for the next two years. This is a cut in real terms and means we will have to cut services and find further budget reductions over the next 2 to 3 years just to meet the inflationary pressures we face which are currently running at 11%. Whilst new announcements such as the increase to the national living wage are welcome, this will come at a substantial cost to the council with little extra funding to pay for it.

“This all comes on top of over a decade of austerity. For the last 12 years, councils have borne the brunt of huge reductions in funding. But this has come at a price, with services and facilities up and down the country already cut to the bone.

“Having the ability to raise council tax higher without a referendum is of little comfort, with inflation and taxes rising in all other parts of the economy too. The simple reality is that what we raise through locally collected tax does not come close to covering the amount we need to deliver key services which are rising in significant demand and cost every day. Councils simply need more funding to continue delivering the range of local services that people have come to expect. The LGA believe that a 20% rise in council tax would be needed nationally, which is clearly unsustainable.

“Earlier this week we saw the leaders of Hampshire and Kent County Council urge the Government to provide more funding too. These are two of the country’s largest upper tier councils, and like Southend-on-Sea have been financially well-managed in recent years, but their budgets are at breaking point and they have warned they are in danger of filing for bankruptcy in the next year or so.

“Southend-on-Sea is a financially well-run council and is in the top 25% for financial health but will still struggle to get through this national funding crisis without significant changes in service delivery and standards and reducing demand particularly around children’s and adults social care services.

“It is now clearer than ever that as part of our January draft budget we must also raise more income than we do now and that will mean some charges going up, including council tax and we will need to reduce our capital programme to lower borrowing. This will all require prioritisation and will require us to continue to be open and honest with residents about the reality of the national and local position.

“Service providers and partners also need to play a part in the required efficiency drive now needed as the Council cannot be seen to continually finance services it does not have adequate funding for - we all need to contribute to the financial challenge we are facing.

“As Leader of the Council I am determined that we remain focussed on protecting the most vulnerable residents of our City through our Adult and Children’s Social Care Services on which currently around 65% of the Council’s money is spent and which is continuing to rise. To quote the Chancellor, we have some eye-watering decisions ahead of us now and in the future just to keep our books balanced and our statutory services going.”

Published: 18th November 2022

Go to top
Feedback button
Feedback Button