The Leader reflects on an important week in the 2024/25 budget setting process.
As Leader, it has been a busy week politically, with two meetings related to the proposals to tackle our financial challenges and take some tough decisions.
At policy and resources scrutiny committee last night my colleagues and I were challenged on the draft budget for 2024/25 as part of the process the council goes through every year. As I have said numerous times, no councillor comes into politics wanting to raise council tax or fees and charges or make changes and reductions to services. However, politicians do have to show strong leadership and make tough decisions and that is never more apparent across the country right now, from a national level right down to our own local level here in Southend-on-Sea.
There was a high level of debate and lots of robust challenge about a variety of issues ranging from proposals around dementia commissioning and family centre services through to tenants rents, our level of reserves and difficult choices we are having to make around staff. Some of these items have been subject to public consultations which finished this week, the results of which will be published soon. The cabinet and I have also listened carefully to comments made at scrutiny committee and I have been encouraging and open to collaboration throughout the budget setting process as we must work together to deliver a balanced budget and transform into the future. The next stage is for cabinet to reconsider the draft budget in mid-February, and any revisions made to the budget will be published next week.
We also took the tough call last autumn to accept that we need to move to alternate weekly collections. This will help us avoid £10m of additional costs over the eight years of the contract period and will no doubt boost recycling rates. At cabinet earlier this week, emerging policies related to the new recycling and waste collection contract were under discussion, specifically regarding how we will roll out wheelie bins and deal with those households that may not be suitable for them. My colleague and deputy leader Cllr Davidson wrote about this in more detail last month.
I invited questions from the group leaders and lots of those were understandably focussed on how the new contract will operate and work in practice. A move to wheelie bins for most households and alternate weekly waste collections is what we must do, and there will no doubt be difficulties as we transition to a new contract from April 2025 and a new service by the end of October 2025 at the latest.
Finally, I wanted to say a personal thanks to Rob Tinlin who finishes in his role as interim chief executive this weekend and extend my best wishes to Colin Ansell who starts as our new chief executive on Monday. It has been great to work with Rob again and I look forward to working with Colin to take the city forwards into the future.
Have a good weekend,
Cllr Tony Cox, leader of the council