Leader's blog - 15 September 2023

Council leader Cllr Tony Cox outlines the financial challenges facing the council.

Cllr Tony Cox wearing a navy blue suit jacket, white shirt and a pink, blue and white flowery tie. He is sitting in front of the Council Coat of Arms.

It's inevitable that at some point as a leader there will come a time when you cannot shy away from making difficult decisions.

For me, four months into my leadership, I find myself inheriting a challenging financial situation, because the council is experiencing unprecedented pressures.

A cabinet report into finances will be discussed on Monday, and looks at our spending from April to July 2023, revealing the council is currently forecast to overspend by £14 million by the end of March 2024 if we don't step in and act.

This unprecedented pressure is coming from high inflation, an increase in demand and cost for services, and an increased complexity of needs among those residents and families that need our support and services.

The lion's share of our budget goes to those who need it most, our vulnerable residents who we have a statutory obligation to support, and it is the reason why children's social care is forecast to be overspent by £7million and adult's social services by £6 million.

You may have seen media headlines this week discussing the possible closure of some services. This is to highlight the fact that as a cabinet and as a council we must look at every and any opportunity where money can be saved, spending can be scaled back or paused and where efficiency savings can take place.

This includes in-house costs and spending, where the recruitment freeze on non-essential staff will continue, a transformation programme to improve efficiency is taking place and budget challenge sessions have been introduced for each department.

If this doesn't have an impact, then tougher measures, or what I call blunt instruments, will be used. They include essential spending only, 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 family centres, libraries and leisure.

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 on 7 September, 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.

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 (where councils are saying they cannot balance their budget which they are legally required to do) which was once unheard of, is looking like a real possibility for a number of other 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 consider the significant added pressures so that we live within our means.

We have some tough decisions ahead of us, but I truly believe if the council pulls together, members of all political persuasion and officers, for the greater good of the city, then we can get through this and ride the storm to calmer financial seas.

Cllr Tony Cox,
Leader of the Council

Published: 15th September 2023

Go to top