Southend Council saves libraries and children’s centres

Under threat libraries and children’s centres in Southend have been saved from the risk of closure, the city council has confirmed after slashing a financial black hole.

Two libraries in the city were at risk of closure, while five children’s centres were under-threat when the council revealed in November it was battling a huge £10.7million financial deficit.

However, that has now been slashed to £6.3million after the council was able to “refinance its debt”.

Despite the positivity, the council is still facing a huge £35million deficit by the 2028/29 financial year.

The announcement that libraries could be at risk sparked outcry from the public in Southend, with a series of petition and campaigns launched in a bid to save the “vital resources”.

Conservative council leader Tony Cox confirmed that the closure of libraries had been “taken off the table”, while the NetPark Wellbeing Project in Chalkwell Park had also been saved.

He said: “We were potentially looking at closing two libraries but some of the good work done in terms of being able to refinance our debt has meant that we are not in that position at this stage of needing to close libraries so that’s been taken off the table. There was a lot of angst around NetPark. The funding will continue for that.

“Children’s centres are out to consultation and we don’t want to pre-empt the consultation but an option is to make that saving without having to close more family centres than needed ”

The five threatened children’s centres are set to remain open but St Luke’s centre, which runs for one hour a week will cease along with baby massage sessions at all the centres. Service charges have risen by 10 per cent as of January 1, with cremation charges rising 15 per cent and burials going up by 20 per cent.

Cllr Cox added: “This is a very tough budget setting, with difficult decisions to be made. There are no easy choices. The fact is we must bring in more money and raise charges, whilst reducing our spending in non-statutory areas so that we can continue to protect and look after the children and adults that need our help.

“Unfortunately, there are no easy choices any longer, but we are committed to protecting statutory services, supporting those who need our help as best we can and keeping financial matters in our own hands.

“This means proposing difficult things and taking difficult decisions and that is exactly what we are doing.”

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Christine Sexton

Local Democracy Reporter