Amended Southend opposition budget to soften blow of cuts branded ‘coalition of chaos’

Southend Conservatives have branded oppositions councillors a “coalition of chaos” after the Tory budget was torpedoed by sweeping last-minute amendments.

The administration’s carefully balanced budget designed to help avoid a £35million deficit from accruing over the next four years was replaced by an amended opposition budget aimed at softening the blow of cuts.

Four dementia support posts will be preserved and a part-time community dementia worker will be taken on, a council graduate training programme will remain and the civic plant nursery will be retained. Three new community safety officers will also be appointed and there will be more money for potholes.

The opposition group maintains its proposals are fully costed and signed off by finance officers but Conservatives have branded them “fantasy figures”.

Speaking after Wednesday’s budget meeting, Tony Cox, leader of the council, said: “The ominous “Coalition of Chaos” has shamelessly reared its head once again.

“This same group of Labour, Lib Dem and Independent councillors pushed the council to the brink of bankruptcy, and now they have come together again to push through more unfunded promises. Undoing the hard work of Conservative councillors to get Southend back on track.”

Cllr Cox added: “They have not learned from their past mistakes and continue to make reckless decisions and false promises to residents which will take us back to square one.

“Local Conservatives will not stand idly by while they jeopardise the progress we have made in cleaning up the financial mess created by the previous administration and their fantasy figures.”

Speaking at Thursday’s budget meeting, Daniel Cowan, leader of the Labour Group, said: “People come here for our seven miles of incredible coast line, our theatres, our shops, our businesses, our culture, our football club, our award-winning pier and so much more.

“Southend is more than a car park by the sea. We are a city and we want to build a city we can be proud of. Our amendments enhance this city. They give more reasons to come to Southend and they support the amazing people who already live here.

Cllr Cowan added: “We found a way to balance the budget without destroying services whilst increasing income in a fair way that supports local people and asks for a modest contribution from visitors.”

Following the meeting, Cllr Cowan said he believed the Tories would be able to work with the new budget. He said: “I think the budget is entirely deliverable, just as deliverable as their original budget. Amendments have to be signed off as robust and achievable and that’s what’s happened here.

“It’s a case of they don’t want to deliver the budget rather than they can’t.”

Asked if there might be a vote of no confidence if Tories resist the new budget, Cllr Cowan said: “The new budget doesn’t start until April 1 at which point we will be in the election campaign anyway. So if the Conservatives look to undermine local democracy we will make that clear in the election campaign and let the people of Southend decide.”

Paul Collins, leader of the Lib Dem Group, welcomed amendments that include more care of the environment. He said: “We were concerned that there was no part of the original Conservative budget that promoted a better environment, so to put in a budget for new trees, proper biodiversity main highway borders for our pollinators, promote our parks department and not wind it down were key elements of our agreed amendments.”

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Christine Sexton

Local Democracy Reporter