SOUTHEND Council’s budget deficit is double what it was predicted to be this year, at £14million.
The Conservatives, who took over the council following May’s elections said the previous administration’s prediction of a £7.6m deficit had turned out to be way off the mark.
Giving an update on the financial position at a recent full council meeting ahead of next week’s cabinet meeting, Coun Tony Cox, leader of the council, said: “It’s a very challenging situation and I’m going to have to be straight with everybody. The budget, as is, and inherited, in all likelihood will not balance.
“That’s the reality of where we are. I have instructed the chief executive to look at every means possible to do what can be done to wrestle back the situation.”
Daniel Cowan, leader of the Labour Group, said Tory spending had exacerbated the problem.
He said: “The leader has mentioned about the financial challenge and that the budget likely won’t balance. The claims are that this administration is careful with money and yet it seems that anything they bring forward is costing the taxpayer more.
“We have items which we are not able to scrutinize properly like the 6pm to 9pm parking charges.
“If you want to know why the budget won’t balance it’s because his administration keeps taking things out of the revenue budget and putting things on.”
Coun Cowan added: “We are in a very difficult, challenging position. That much is understood, but this administration is making it worse with their back-of-the-envelope decisions, things that they won’t allow to be scrutinised, no detail on what’s happening on new parking spaces.
“This is no way to operate.”
In response, Coun Cox said: “It’s ironic that he’s sitting there with a budget he voted for that’s £14million projected to be overspent and growing by the day.
“I’ve asked the chief executive to look at all measures, including radical measures we may take to balance the books. That’s the cold, hard, brutal reality.
“There is no magic wand. I will not shy away from taking those difficult decisions.”
The scrapping of the 6pm to 9pm parking charge is predicted to cost the council about £400,000 a year.
Ron Woodley, Residents First councillor for Thorpe Ward, said: “In my budget speech back in February I said this budget might have been balanced on paper, but it was not balance actually and that’s proved to be the case.
“The parking charges won’t make a lot of difference to that massive change in the budget that we are now seeing.”
Picture: Coun Tony Cox
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