Despite continued central Government cuts and the need to reduce its annual spending by nearly £12.4m, the council has committed to protect front-line services and invest £3m into services for vulnerable residents - although council tax will rise by nearly 2%.
£155m of capital investment projects will be delivered including £32m spent on council housing over the next four years. Proposals to invest £267,000 of reserves to keep Priory House care home open whilst plans are worked on for the development of an adult social care campus on the Priory site have also been approved.
The budget identifies £10.5m of savings, and the use of £1.9 million of reserves to spread the budget gap over three years and avoid unnecessary short term cuts. This amount from reserves will be replenished in 2016/17 and 2017/18. Council tax will rise by 1.95% or 42 pence per week for a Band D property.
The budget approval follows news that the main grant the council receives from central Government will decrease by £11.1m (28%) in 2015/16.
Cllr Ron Woodley, Leader of the Council, says: “We have had to make some incredibly difficult decisions that deliver significant savings just so we can balance our books. It is inevitable that as central Government funding reduces every year, the decisions get tougher and tougher. To put this in context we need to save over £33m over the next three years, which is approximately £42,000 per working day or £210,000 per working week for the next three years.
“However, I am also very clear that we must remain a forward thinking and ambitious authority and that is why we will continue to seek external funding to deliver capital projects that improve the Borough and also encourage private investment into the town.
“We really have little choice but to raise council tax rise by 1.95%, or 42p a week for a Band D household. We have not done this lightly and accept that local people have also been impacted by the austerity measures, so we have done everything possible to avoid this. Unfortunately it is unrealistic for this authority to keep taking crippling Government cuts on the chin without at some stage having to raise council tax by a small amount.
“This budget delivers the major savings required whilst maintaining and even investing in our core front-line services that will keep the streets clean, look after our vulnerable people and ensure that we remain a competitive and popular tourist and business destination.”
Over £3m will be invested in front line services, with £635,000 to fund community support costs to help young people with a learning disability who are turning 18, to make the transition into adult social care to ensure they have positive outcomes. An additional £500,000 per year has been set aside to deal with the changing and ageing demographics of the Borough and an increased demand for 24 hour care for older people in the Borough, and £75,000 is being budgeted to meet the demand for ‘staying put’ foster placements, which is a national policy allowing foster children to stay with their foster family beyond the age of 18.
An Energy Efficiency Team will be created with £100,000 a year of funding for two years to undertake investigation and feasibility studies into energy efficiency measures that will benefit residents and produce annual revenue savings for both the Council and Schools budgets.
£1.5m is also being invested into the on-going base budget as part of the new county-wide waste management arrangements.
Public Health funding is currently ring-fenced and The Public Health service grant allocation for 2015/16 is £8.060 million, which is exactly the same level as for 2014/15. However, the integration of Public Health into the Council has seen financial benefits with more joint working, delivering savings of nearly £250,000 a year.
Savings will therefore be made across the three departmental spending areas as follows:
- Department for People - £6.465m
- Department for Place - £2.568m
- Department for Corporate Services - £1.467m
“We are continuing to redesign our services to ensure they remain right for our residents, reviewing what we are doing and how we are doing it, renegotiating contracts with suppliers and contractors, finding new income streams and savings, making small increases to our fees and charges and prudently using reserves where there is good reason to do so. In some areas we are also investing in the front-line and working with our health partners to improve services whilst driving down costs, such as through the effective use of the Better Care Fund and Fulfilling Lives Big Lottery funding.
“Wherever possible I want to minimise the impact on our residents and also our staff. Wholesale redundancies would be counter-productive to both the local economy and also staff morale which in turn has an impact on services to residents. When you have to save £10.5m in one year, then there is inevitably going to be an impact on the workforce, but we have done what we can to reduce that impact. However, I appreciate that this budget does affect individuals and I am committed to ensuring that the right support is in place and to keeping compulsory redundancy to a minimum.
“I feel that this budget delivers the necessary savings, whilst protecting the most vulnerable members of our community and showing that Southend is ambitious, open for business and serious about its economic future.”