This afternoon, the draft budget for Southend Borough Council has been announced and made public by the joint administration. I haven’t had a chance yet to go over it in any great detail, so this is simply an overview of the headlines.
The most notable measures of the budget are:
- Priory House care home has been saved from closure under the previous Tory administration’s policies.
- No more children’s centres to close.
- No more money taken out of Libraries.
- At least £850,000 saved from new waste contract, with weekly service maintained.
- To fund this, and plug the £11m gap in Southend’s funding resulting from Tory cuts, council tax will increase by 1.95%, which is equivalent to £2.19 a month, or 51p a week, on a band D property.
There are a lot of successes here, a lot of achievements by the joint administration which in a climate of austerity and difficult decisions should see them genuinely applauded.
Managing to save Priory House in particular is a big success, and will mean the world to residents and their families. I recall that the Conservatives were very critical of Labour’s Cllr David Norman undertaking a review of the decision to close it, claiming it would only cause residents more stress when it was closed anyway. Well this vindicates David, and vindicates all of us who have criticised the decision to close the home since it was made.
Of course, there is another side to this: council tax will increase. I do not want to see the taxation burden increase, particularly council tax, which is a particularly regressive tax. I know that this is likely to be the headline taken away from the budget, and there will be heavy criticism resulting from it. I would, though, suggest that Southend residents bear in mind why this rise is necessary:
This Tory-led government has cut £11m from Southend for this year.
Far be it from me to cry conspiracy, but £11m seems so harsh as to be punitive, especially when you look at the political control of councils according to the cuts (or in the case of blue councils, increases) in their funding:
It’s an astronomical amount, at a time when 14 years of Tory local government has left services in Southend reeling.
So the joint administration deserve praise, in my opinion. There are no significant cuts being made to services that people in Southend rely on, partly through use of the reserves that the council holds for just such situations as this. And the rise in taxation, whilst undesirable, is small in monetary terms.
On a Band D property, an extra 51p per week. To save a care home. To save services for young and old, for the vulnerable, for each and every person in Southend in the face of swingeing cuts from the Conservative government. To this taxpayer, that seems like a price worth paying.