Council unveils tough draft budget for 2016/17 but protects the frontline

Published Monday, 11th January 2016

stack of coins

Southend-on-Sea Borough Council has unveiled its draft 2016/17 budget. It seeks to protect & maintain frontline services that people rely on, despite central Govt. cuts that are worse than anticipated

The council needs to find departmental service savings of £10.467m (following £10.425m of service savings in 2015/16). Along with the savings, a number of proposed new projects have also been announced as part of the council’s capital programme which is separate to the council’s general fund revenue budget.

The council’s cabinet will consider the draft proposals at its meeting next week (Tuesday 19th January), and follows the news that the main grant the council receives from central Government will decrease by £8.43m (28%) in 2016/17, following an £11.1m (28%) funding cut in 2015/16.

It is anticipated that by 2020 the council will receive no core grant at all and will be largely reliant on council tax and business rates as its two main sources of funding.

The draft budget will now be consulted on and go through the council’s scrutiny committees, with the final budget to be discussed and approved at Full Council on Thursday 25th February 2016.

The budget proposals identify £10.086m of departmental service savings, plus £381,000 of savings from public health, making a total of £10.467m. The council must also find over £1.3m to deal with service ‘pressures’ which mainly reflect the costs of caring for an ageing population that need council support.

Cllr Ron Woodley, Leader of the Council, says:  “I said in December that we would have a tough budget on our hands, and today I have no choice but to announce some incredibly difficult decisions that deliver the significant savings required just so we can balance our books but continue keep the streets clean, support businesses, ensure Southend-on-Sea remains an attractive and popular place to live, visit and do business, but most importantly to look after and protect our most vulnerable people.

“Residents should not be fooled by Government rhetoric about ‘spending power’ and a 2% social care precept. That raises £1.3m, but our social care pressures, including dealing with an ageing population means we have had to find an extra £1m anyway, and a £1.1m adult social care grant we previously thought was available has been deleted and included into our ever decreasing revenue support grant which itself has been cut deeper than anticipated.  By 2020 we will receive no core grant at all and be largely reliant on council tax and business rates to fund council services.

“I accept it will not be popular, but I must protect the economic stability of the council and I therefore feel I have no choice but to propose to raise council tax by 1.99% and also accept the 2% social care precept which is ring-fenced in order to start raising the money we need to keep the council solvent. In total this is a rise of 89p per week for a Band D household or around £47 a year. To not do this would undoubtedly be politically expedient but it would be irresponsible and lead to many issues in future years.  I would be delighted to be able to freeze council tax, but central Government cuts have made that impossible.  This is even accepted by the Government who for the first time in many years are not offering the usual council tax freeze grant. I cannot emphasise enough how important it is to understand that I must make the council financially stable now, and in the coming years.

“Even with a council tax rise, we must still save nearly £840,000 a month in 2016/17 or £38,000 per working day and likely a similar amount over the next four years. 

“It is a credit to council officers and my cabinet colleagues that we have been able to present a draft balanced budget, despite late and unexpected announcements from Government, that protects frontline services and also ensures that we remain forward thinking and ambitious, and an authority that continues to seek external funding to deliver regeneration and capital projects that improve our Borough and encourage further private sector investment.

“I said last year and I say again that we cannot and will not just batten down the hatches and rein in our ambitions.  That would be no good for local people, local businesses or for the economic prosperity of Southend-on-Sea. Our multi-million pound capital programme demonstrates how we can attract significant amounts of external funding to deliver major projects whilst containing the need for borrowing.

Along with the savings, the council also needs to find an additional £500,000 to deal with the increased demand for care of older people. This is due to residents living longer and staying independent in their own homes thanks to the help of council home care. A further £400,000 is also needed to fund transition costs of supporting people with learning difficulties who will reach the age of 18 and need adult social care services. Public Health funding is also no longer protected, with central funding being reduced accordingly.

Savings are proposed to be made across the four departmental spending areas as follows:

  • Department for People - £5.311m
  • Department for Place - £3.367m
  • Department for Corporate Services - £1.408m
  • Public Health - £381,000

In Corporate Services, it is proposed that there will be a number of restructures saving £685,000. Increases in Bereavement Service charges will raise £65,000, additional rental income from commercial leases and rents and the letting of Civic 2 will generate £150,000. Outlook, the council’s resident magazine would also stop being issued saving £50,000, with the council looking at other forms of external communication to keep residents informed about services.

In the Department for People, the biggest proposed savings (£3m in total) will be made by a major review of the Learning Disability services and social services for older people.  In line with what is happening across the country, both services will be transformed to provide a more person centred approach that focuses on helping people remain independent, remain in their homes for longer and keep people out of residential care and expensive day care services. People will be supported in a new way and will focus on people’s strengths and how care can be tailored to support that.

In the Department for Place, a number of innovative projects and contract renegotiations already underway or completed will bear fruit in 2016/17.

The re-tendered leisure management contract will save £300,000, the grounds maintenance service will be fully moved back in house saving £294,000 and the new waste collection contract will deliver its full year savings of £925,000.  The council’s innovative approach to LED street lighting will also save £440,000.

Car park charges will be frozen across the Borough, but will be increased in the central seafront area between April and October.  This will generate £200,000 income and reflects some of the additional costs incurred by the council during the summer season to maintain and keep the central seafront area clean and tidy. It will also enable the council to continue free evening parking after 6pm in this area and across the town centres.

In Public Health, proposed savings will be achieved re-negotiating drug and alcohol commissioned services, not recruiting to three stop smoking vacancies, and not commissioning a number of projects including the domestic abuse schools prevention project, a community gym project and a programme that helps to prevent and reduce avoidable injuries.

The proposals mean that up to 59.6 Full Time Equivalent (FTE) posts will be deleted. Of those, 19.4 are currently vacant (33%) and 17.6 will be voluntary redundancies (30%), leaving a potential of up to 22.6 FTE posts being made redundant.

Employees in the affected areas and the trade unions have been fully briefed.  As in previous years, voluntary redundancy and possible redeployment opportunities to any council vacancies will be highlighted within the Council’s successful Talent Pool system, helping to keep the number of compulsory redundancies to an absolute minimum.

Councillor Ron Woodley, Leader of the Council, concludes:

“It is becoming increasingly harder to balance the books and minimise the impact on our residents, businesses and staff. Wholesale redundancies would be counter-productive to both the local economy and staff morale which then impacts on services to residents. But when the Government makes cut after cut and with the realisation that we will probably receive no central funding by 2020, there is inevitably going to be job losses as ultimately we must continue to do the basics like cleaning the streets, fixing our roads, collecting rubbish and protecting and looking after our most vulnerable people that need help.  I am committed to ensuring that the right support is in place for our staff affected and to keeping compulsory redundancy to a minimum where we can.

“Looking to the future, we have to be open, honest and realistic and in the current, and forecast, period of national austerity, the scale of financial contraction is so vast as to challenge the scale, nature, stability and purpose of the role of the Council.

“Indeed, since the beginning of the national fiscal situation the Council has striven to sustain its full range of services but it is increasingly likely that this approach will be unviable.

“Despite that context, this draft budget still delivers the savings required due to Government cuts, invests in the right areas to ensure that we deal with an ageing population, protects our most vulnerable members of our community and continues to demonstrate that Southend is ambitious and remains open for business.”

The Council will consider the proposals at the following meetings:

19th January                               Budget Cabinet meeting
25th to 28th January                   Scrutiny Committees debate budget proposals
11th February                             Second budget Cabinet meeting
25th February                             Full Council meeting (to set budget and council tax)

There will also be a business budget consultation event on 19th January at the Holiday Inn, Eastwoodbury Crescent starting at 7.30am and a voluntary and community sector briefing on the same day at 11:00am in the Jubilee Room of the Civic Centre.