Cabinet will discuss a budget report which highlights the financial position the council is currently in with actions for how to address the position for 2023/24 and for 2024/25 onwards.
The report, which will be discussed on Monday 18 September (Cabinet papers, agenda item 7), looks at the council's finances up to the end of July 2023 (four months into the financial year), and highlights the unprecedented pressures facing the council and the full year impact if nothing is done.
The main proportion of all the council's costs goes towards the support and care of vulnerable adults, children and their families. The report outlines in detail, the challenging financial position the council is in, with rising service costs from high inflation levels, increasing demand on services and the increased complexity of vulnerable adults, children and families needing support.
Cllr Tony Cox, leader of the council said: “It highlights clearly in the report that nationally many councils are struggling with their financial position this year and the issue of a S114 notice which was once unheard of, is looking like a real possibility for a number of councils.
“Whilst we aren't in that position in Southend, we need to take the warning signs seriously and do everything we possibly can to adjust our overall finances to take into account the significant additional pressures so that we operate within our means.”
Key actions outlined in the report to improve and reduce the predicted overspend include:
- a continuation of the ‘dozen principles’ being used to help contain spending and generate income
- intensive budget management for each service area, with responsibility for delivering additional savings and creating extra income
- a service transformation programme across the organisation to improve efficiency
- budget challenge sessions for each departmental area to identify options for correcting the 2023/24 budget position
Tougher measures are also outlined as a further possibility if the above measures do not work. They include; essential spending only, recruitment freeze, demand management for services, increased charges to some services, removing financial subsidies from some services, managing to statutory levels, and reviewing current buildings and underused frontline services, such as children centres, libraries, leisure etc.
Cllr Cox added: “We have a statutory duty to look after our most vulnerable residents, but the number of referrals, costs of services and complexity of needs are causing budgets to overspend.
“The financial pressures and soaring costs that everyone is experiencing individually in their homes is also being experienced by the council, creating extra unprecedented pressure. Urgent review and regular financial reporting will give us a much better understanding of where we are and what we need to do, but more importantly, how we do it.
“As I made clear in my leader's statement at full council, this is a financial position that we, as a cabinet, have inherited. Now we are challenged with setting it right and this includes lobbying Government for a fairer deal and more funding. We have some tough decisions ahead of us, but I truly believe if the council's members of all political persuasion and officers all pull together, for the greater good of the city, then we can get through this and ride the storm to calmer financial seas.”