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With up to 10% increases in council charges, we ask why does Southend cost so much run?

Since the council’s draft budget proposals were announced I have felt compelled to find out exactly what makes up the budget - to the penny.


We have heard much about the ‘hard decisions’ that have been forced upon by the financial situation the council find themselves in. Highlights include a 4.99% increase in council tax and 10% increase on all council rents, fees and charges and parking ‘in line with inflation’.


The main culprit has been identified as central government cuts in grant funding. I shall comment on that on a future article. For now, I turn directly to the actual council spend that is published on the council’s website where information on every payment made can be found.


Before I start, I would like to confirm that I wholeheartedly agree with pooling our money together to pay for services we all need - in other words, even though I was never asked, I am pro-tax. However, I have noticed that regardless of whatever money is taken, public services do not seem to marry up. If anything, it has got worse.


So, let’s start.


In October the council’s total spending was around £19,514,103 and in November £20,795,571. There are around 185,000 of us in Southend, so some simple maths will show that each of us receives £108.10 per month. This is, of course, a crude way of looking at it, and it may wrongly stir residents up when the £108 received is in return for whatever each of us pays in tax in the month. For some, it works well. Others may feel short-changed. Certainly the bigger the deficit, the more likely the concern.


We have heard how the council has pin-pointed adult social care as one of the primary causes of the budget constraints, and it rings true. October came to £4.4m and November £5.9m, representing around 25% of the budget. Of this, Southend Care Ltd received £1,105,984 and the Forward Trust £472,949 in October and £372,557 in November. These seem to be unsustainable costs that if they continue will see council tax and other charges rise exponentially.


Protecting vulnerable people is vital as horrible as it may be, anyone of us or our family may suffer from problems that might require care. No matter what, we cannot stop protecting people. However, my questions surround the costs of those that are servicing us. Without understanding the situation it is impossible to comment, but it is to say that we need to know what is going on because we are heading into serious trouble.


Next, we turn to our roads. Marlborough Surfacing Ltd received £1,095,321 in October. I think we would all agree that potholes and the general state of our roads are a blight, with some falling victim to punctures and breakdowns as a result. Questions about the tender ought to be asked, as these costs are perhaps too much at this time.


Our schools collectively received around £2,500,000 in the month with Southend Boys receiving the most in November at £575,000. In total, children and education services cost £7,885,332 in November. No one would begrudge spending money on education, in fact, the Confelicity Party would aim to bring class sizes down to 12 in an ideal world. This is, however, a colossal amount and again we need to look at where the money is going.


Veolia received the highest single payment in October of £568,902. They also received a further £157K. I had presumed that waste was all taken care of by Veolia, but Enovert received £393,406 for waste management. No doubt it was necessary, but still worth questioning.


It was reported in the Echo a short while back, but to confirm, Hays Specialist Recruitment received £919,401 to supply agency staff. It has already been said what a disaster this situation is, but the council’s recruitment policy needs special attention as this needs to be resolved quickly.


The personal information of foster parents was rightly unpublished, however, a large proportion of the £840,734 in October and £394,210 in November was redacted. The redactions are of concern, as that is a lot of tax being spent in unknown ways.


In terms of fostering, we know how important brilliant foster carers are to a child’s life, and so their contribution is invaluable, and no doubt the costs are justified. It is striking just how many children there may be who need fostering and is an indication that something societal and systematic is going wrong. It is also worth understanding how this has increased over time as, like adult social care, there could be a point when it becomes unsustainable.


The highest single expense in November was Lhcs & Southend Travel Partnership Limited T/A Vecteo at £593,750. They provide transport for SEN, for which they have struggled to fulfil their obligations, as has already been recognised in council meetings.


When the data is available for December I look forward to running another overview. In the meantime, my general thoughts are just how costly all these services are. We cannot cut fundamental services to vulnerable people, but we must understand how these services have come to cost so much.


I shall be looking at historic data to compare the increases over the years just to see if there has been any significant reasons for the substantial burden on taxpayers.


For those that are interested in finding out how our money is spent, the links are: ttps://www.southend.gov.uk/downloads/file/7670/our-spending-over-500-november-2022


https://www.southend.gov.uk/downloads/file/7666/our-spending-over-500-october-2022


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