Southend Council leader says authority can afford half a million on extra staffing despite £10m funding gap

Half a million pounds is set to be spent each year on employing extra staff members at Southend Council despite the authority facing a funding gap of more than £10million.

The leader of the council insisted the staffing shake-up is affordable and will help deliver a series of major projects ranging from the regeneration of the Queensway estate to the new Roots Hall housing development.

It is understood an extra £497,000 will be spent annually on recruiting 10 full-time staff members starting in April 2021.

It comes as council reports show the authority is facing a £10.3million funding gap as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has seen council income fall significantly but costs rise.

Speaking at a Policy and Resources Scrutiny Committee meeting on Thursday night Labour council leader Ian Gilbert said the additional staffing is “needed” as the council moves forward on major projects that will support the local economy.

But he came under scrutiny from Conservative leader, Cllr Tony Cox, who acknowledged the council leader may see the expense as needed but “there are families up and down this town who need things but can’t afford them”.

He continued: “Looking at our situation with the budget challenges which are significant, I ask can we afford another half a million pounds added and if we can at the expense of what services.”

Mr Gilbert said: “I believe we can afford it, we are looking at the budget setting process for next year and there are always efficiencies to drive out within every council but one of those things that families need up and down the town is jobs.

“Jobs in Southend rely on businesses investing and rely on confidence in the local economy.

“By having the resources to progress these projects, and we can progress these projects at pace, we are helping to secure jobs for the town.

“As a council we are the biggest corporate body in the town and we are the one organisation that can provide this leadership. I think it is incumbent for us to do so.”

Liberal Democrat councillor Paul Collins said the expenditure would avoid the council spending on “expensive” external consultants and it is their “duty” to make sure it is “as resourced as it can possibly be and £497,000 may seem like a lot of money to an individual, but to an authority of this size it is a reasonable expense”.

Steve Shaw

Local Democracy Reporter