Southend Council faces tough choices amid budget shortfall

The top five floors of Southend’s Civic Centre are to close as the council braces itself for an “economic tsunami” which will leave it £14.6 million out of pocket.

Directors of every department at Southend Council have also been told to find 15 per cent cuts in the services they offer to address the shortfall.

Bosses hope closing some of the Civic Centre will help reduce energy bills, which have soared by an extra £2.3million without the energy cap available to residents.

Earlier this year, it was revealed Southend Council was considering its future at the 16-storey tower block on Victoria Avenue due to a high volume of staff working from home.

Stephen George, leader of the council, says the city is facing “the biggest challenge in the council’s history” due to rising costs.

He said: “With energy and fuel bills rising, inflation and increased demand for our services particularly in high cost areas such as children’s services and adult social care, these are having a real impact on local impact and businesses.

“Some people call it a perfect storm, I call it an economic tsunami.”

A total of £8.5million of the overspend is being blamed on inflation.

All council contracts with outside suppliers will be scrutinised with a view to ending them or restructuring them for a better deal.

The council would normally lay out its budget in the spring, but in the face of rising costs has drawn up an interim budget which will be presented to cabinet next week.

The council, which has seen a 90 per cent cut in Government funding in recent years, is facing a £4m increase in the pay bill for its staff and increased waste disposal costs as more people work from home.

Around £2.2m is directly down to the very high cost of residential care placements and particularly those for children with complex needs.

Paul Collins councillor responsible for asset management and inward investment, says savings will also be made on recruitment, with only essential roles filled.

He added: “It’s not quite a freeze on staffing but it’s close to it.

“A review of our third party suppliers and service contracts is under way to see if are in position to stop some contracts if it’s possible and if it’s not necessary.

“Tough decisions will have to be made.”

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Christine Sexton

Local Democracy Reporter