Expanded secondary schools, a new care campus for the elderly, and investment in the Pier, parks and car parking improvements top the funding list as Southend Borough Council’s draft capital budget up to 2021 has been revealed.
In addition to over £125m already in the capital budget committed to important projects, £59.1m of funding has been identified for a number of existing and new projects up to 2021, including:
•£20m on a major secondary school expansion programme, following recent work to expand many primary schools. An estimated £10m is expected from central Government funding, with a further £1m expected to refurbish maintained schools that require work. This is in addition to £8m identified last year for the conversion of PROCAT and Wentworth sites and partial expansions of other schools;
•£11.5m new investment in Southend Pier, including £8m to reconstruct the timber outer pier head, and an additional £1.5m for reinforcement works to the Prince George extension;
•£9.5m for the redevelopment of Priory and Delaware residential care home and the Viking Day Centre for people with a learning disability. This is in addition to £2m previously identified in the current capital budget;
•£5m to look into creating additional car parking capacity at sites south of central Southend, and £0.5m to improve parking signage;
Cllr John Lamb, Leader of the Council, says: “Despite the continued central funding cuts, we must be bold, ambitious and invest in our Borough to ensure that we advance and prosper in the future.
“We are therefore investing significant sums in essential things like secondary school places, ensuring that our famous Pier is safeguarded, maintained and improved and investing in plans to look after our elderly and vulnerable through developing new facilities. We also continue to fight for external funding, and have had many successes in securing external funding for important local projects.
“We have also listened to local traders and are proposing major investment in creating additional car parking spaces in the central Southend area and improving signage and guidance systems.
“We are also ensuring that we remain a modern business and workforce, by investing in ICT and software improvements and a number of smaller but equally important projects.
“Wherever possible these projects will bring income into the council or just must be done. Despite the austere times this gives us an impressive capital budget to make a difference to important local facilities and infrastructure and shows that we are open for business and here to do the very best for local people and businesses.”
Further proposed projects include:
•£6.2m to continue the completion of the Decent Homes programme in 2020/21, including kitchen and housing modernisations, and carry out energy efficiency and health and safety works funded through the Housing Revenue Account (HRA) major repairs allowance;
•£1.3m for ICT business transformation to enable more efficiencies to be made, streamline services and enable future revenue savings to be made
•£1.2m on core ICT infrastructure and software improvements that are vital to ensure the council remains a modern and productive business;
•£0.7m for theatres and leisure centres;
•£0.5m to develop and improve car park signage for the whole Borough and introduce new signage, particularly to promote alternative seafront car parks;
•£0.4m for a major CCTV upgrade to digital cameras;
•£0.25m for a new ‘wheeled sports’ facility in the central Southend area to be developed between 2018 and 2020. This will be for skateboarders, bikers and scooters;
•£0.25m to deliver short term measures to help deal with extreme rainfall events and plan for the medium and longer term;
•£0.25m to look into the feasibility of wave and tidal energy on the pier, drainage sensors and solar PV and battery energy;
•£0.2m for play equipment and park furniture;
•£50K to provide new commercial beach huts on the Pier, a small fleet of rickshaw type bikes for Pier visitors, and a new shelter on City Beach;
•£50K for new doors and security improvements at the Southend Travel Centre;
•£45K to replace handrails along the Cliffs area.
The £59.1m of new funding will take the approved capital programme for 2017/18 to 2020/21 to £185.8m, of which £58.8m of this is expected to be spent in 2017/18, £61.2m in 2018/19, £49.6m in 2019/20 and £16.2m in 2020/21. External funding accounts for £58.2m of this.
Meanwhile the Borough Council also needs to make savings of 13 million pounds for 2017/18.
This follows the news that the main grant the council receives from central Government will decrease again in 2017/18, this time by £6.7m (31% reduction) to £14.7m. By 2020 it is anticipated that the council will receive no core grant at all and will be reliant on council tax, business rates, and fees and charges as its main sources of funding.
As part of the £13m budget gap, the council must invest £3m into services to deal with ‘pressures’ including £1m to deal with the implications of the national living wage, £500,000 to care for an ageing population that need council support, £400,000 to help children with learning disabilities move into adult social care, and £600,000 for added demand and cost pressures in children’s services. An additional £1.85m will also be invested in one-off essential projects.
As a result, the budget proposals identify £6.921m of departmental savings plus £0.581m from Public Health. In addition, council reserves of £2.8m will be used to offset the reduction in business rates and smooth the council’s budget gap over the next three years.
Additionally council tax will rise by 4.99%, with 1.99% for general use and 3% being levied to be spent specifically on adult social care. However car parking charges will be frozen, and in some cases reduced. Savings will be made across the council’s three departments through a series of contract renegotiations, service transformation projects, increasing income in various areas and innovative projects such as energy efficiency work that will start to see major savings bear fruit in 2017/18.
Cllr John Lamb, Leader of the Council says: “Every year setting a balanced budget gets tougher and tougher. Our central funding grant continues to fall significantly, whilst the numbers of people needing our help and support continues to rise significantly. This means that we have to continually make some hard choices that enable us to make the significant savings required but continue to do the basics and most importantly look after and protect our most vulnerable people.
“We must raise council tax by 4.99% or around £1.14 a week which includes the 3% social care precept (69p a week) which is ring-fenced to help fund our social care services. In total this is an annual rise of £59.66 for a Band D household.
“I would much prefer to announce a council tax freeze but central Government cuts and the financial situation have made that impossible. Even with the rises and savings that we are announcing, we estimate that after this year, we will still need to save £695,000 a month or £32,000 per working day over the next three years (£25m in total).
“However despite all of this, we are still investing almost £5m into services, with £3m to deal with increased pressures we are facing in areas like adult social care and child care, and an additional £1.85m for one-off investment over the next few years in a number of essential projects such as developing our energy efficiency work, investing in reducing the number of children being taken into care, and delivering the children’s services improvement plan.
“Looking to the future, we will need to increasingly focus the delivery of our services in a more targeted way and to those who need our help, and we will need to adopt this approach in tailoring our statutory services too. As we move forward we will reposition ourselves as a council to help the community, its residents and businesses take personal control over as many factors affecting their lives as possible.”
Savings are proposed to be made across the key spending areas as follows:
•Department for People – £3.960m
•Department for Place – £1.971m
•Chief Executives Department – £0.990m
•Public Health – £0.581m
The full listing of the proposed savings gives fuller details.
The proposals mean that up to 10.4 Full Time Equivalent (FTE) posts will be deleted. Of those, 8.4 are currently vacant (81%). In addition there are a number of transformation projects within the People Department which have the potential to displace staff. Once the transformation plans are fully scoped, the appropriate formal staff consultation processes for these areas will also take place.
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 John Lamb, Leader of the Council, concludes:
“We try to minimise the impact on our residents, businesses and staff, but budget reductions inevitably have an impact on these groups. Unfortunately job losses are inevitable as staffing is our biggest cost, but wholesale redundancies have and will always be avoided where possible and it is pleasing to see the number of posts being deleted this year are much lower than in previous years. Where staff are affected, I am committed to ensuring that the right support is in place.”
The draft budget will be considered by the council’s cabinet next week (Thursday 19th), consulted on and go through the council’s scrutiny committees, with the final budget to be discussed and approved at Full Council on Thursday 23rd February 2017.
The Council will consider the proposals at the following meetings:
19th January Cabinet meeting to consider draft budget
23rd to 25th January Scrutiny Committees debate budget proposals
14th February Cabinet meeting to consider final budget
23rd February Full Council meeting (to set budget and council tax)
Business, voluntary and community sector briefings will take place on 19th January.