Leader's Blog - 17 March 2023

Following the announcement of the National Spring budget, Cllr Stephen George reflects on what it means for residents in Southend and how the next generation is benefitting from diversity.

Cllr Stephen George, leader of the council sat in a chair with our coat of arms behind him.

The national Government have announced the Spring budget and putting politics to one side, the main implication for us as a society and local authority seems to be the increase in support for early years services. From April 2024, parents of 2-year-olds will be able access 15 free hours of childcare per week, by September 2024 this will be increased to all parents of children aged 9 months and over. By September 2025 the Government’s aim is for all working parents of 9 month-old children and up, can access 30 free hours of childcare. 

This is going to have a huge impact on our workforce and getting parents who want to return to work, back into the office sooner. As a parent myself, I am well aware of the cost of early years childcare and we have to reflect the fact that the world has changed and its just not financially possible for all families to have one parent at home with the children. It also takes the pressure off of the grandparent generation, who have increasingly shouldered the burden of childcare for their children as part of the changing working environment. 

But it is also going to have a huge impact on our early years providers, the childminders, nurseries and day care centres, we have in Southend-on-Sea who are already doing a fabulous job of caring for our young ones. I’m sure the detail of this plan will be revealed in the coming months, but I wanted to mention the significance of this, as I am sure many of you will be affected by it. 

My working week started with a grand ceremony at Porters House celebrating National Commonwealth Day. It is something we always do well in Southend, traditional protocol and celebration. The schoolchildren who were there seemed to really enjoy it too especially the free bacon and sausage butties provided by the Mayor and there was even some wind for the flag-raising! 

The event did make me think about the diversity of our community in Southend-on-Sea and how as a City, it is one of our strengths. We get the benefit of different cultures, religions and backgrounds, feeding into the events and occasions that take place in our City. It expands the horizons of all residents whilst increasing empathy, as they hear the sometimes heart-breaking stories of others. 

It gives me hope for our future generations, especially as the Southend-on-Sea Youth Council are working with Essex County Council’s Youth Council to encourage children, teenagers and young people to take part in a survey about vaping. While the long-term health implications of vaping still remain unclear, the rise in the number of young people vaping and the ease with which they seem to be able to access vaping products, is a very real concern. 

If you know of any shops selling vaping products to children, please contact Trading Standards on 01702 215005 and report it, anonymously if you wish. We need to get on top of this issue before it becomes a problem and I am very proud of the youth council for leading on this important piece of work. 

It’s the last weekend of winter, so please enjoy it and take care of yourselves. 

Published: 17th March 2023

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