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A proposed budget which includes almost a four per cent hike in council tax and a boost in spending on social housing has been backed by Southend Council’s cabinet.
The approval from council leaders means the budget will now progress to a series of scrutiny committees before getting final approval from councillors at a meeting in February.
Under the plans, families will face paying a 3.99 per cent increase in council tax – an extra £55 a year – primarily to help fund a £5.7million increase in spending for adult and children’s social care.
Children leaving care would also be exempt from paying council tax until the age of 21, or in some circumstances, 25, while residents who have left properties empty for five years would face paying double.
Council leader, Councillor Ian Gilbert said: “Our council, in common with many others up and down the country, is facing large cost pressures within social care budget.
“The impact of demographic change and an aging population has been well understood and reported on. The new emerging cost is within children’s social services where very sadly a number of children are having to be placed within the care of the local authority – a decision made at the court’s discretion.
“We have in the region of around £2.5million is being added simply to cover the costs of those placements. It is a national issue. We are of course looking at long term things we can do such as a large investment in foster carers but there is no quick fix.”
Also in the the budget is a promise to spend £9.5million to buy up private homes and transform them into council homes, part of a wider strategy to get people off the housing waiting list and into properties. The funding will be spent over a five-year period and Cllr Gilbert has estimated it could result in an extra 60 homes.
This funding is in to £5million already spent this year on 20 homes and a £14.5million housebuilding programme.
The town’s infrastructure is also set for a funding boost with £3.2million set to be spent on improvements to roads and pavements, with £1million of that spent on resurfacing and repairing potholes.
A further £5.3million will be spent on maintaining and refurbishing the pier, £2.2million on installing extra electric charge points and £6.8million on improving flood defences.
The budget also includes good news for motorists, with a promise to freeze parking fee in all council car parks in an effort to support business, shops and tourism. The one-hour town centre parking band that was reintroduced in autumn 2019 will also be maintained.
Cllr Anne Jones, who oversees children and learning in the town, said: “This budget looks to deliver for the people of this town as they are the most important thing. We are delivering for the most vulnerable adults, children and families in this town as well as all people through housing, the environment and infrastructure.
“It is very positive to present this budget, I’m very proud and thankful for all the work done on this.”
Cllr Carole Mulroney added: “I can say we’ve delivered on what we said we would, we’ve worked together and are going forward with some quite exciting things for Southend.”