By Southend Council’s Labour Group Leader and Councillor for St Laurence ward Coun Daniel Cowan.
IN the summer, I wrote for Leigh-on-Sea News Political Viewpoint and I said that politics is a matter of choices, and the choices being made by the Tory administration at Southend City Council are wrong, short-termist, and will ultimately quicken bankruptcy.
The current picture at Southend City Council is pretty grim. The Tories have broken their promises to keep weekly bin collections (despite being told repeatedly that they couldn’t deliver on it) and the council is now contracting for fortnightly bin collections. They are cancelling concerts to save a measly £14,000 yet they spent more than double that when they created an extra two jobs for the boys in their cabinet.
They gave away half a million pounds worth of free parking to the seafront to curry favour and win votes, but to recuperate that money they now want to close down 55% of family centres and 33% of libraries, with Leigh, Westcliff, Kent Elms, and Southchurch libraries most under threat due to their locations.
These are short-termist “savings” that will cost us more in the long-run as they reduce our ability to prevent costs in statutory services down the line. If we don’t have accessibly family centres, then those families that need support slip through the net and we don’t hear of them again until we have a statutory duty to them which costs far more than keeping a family centre open. The more statutory pressures, the quicker we run out of money.
Remember, politics is about choices and this is what they are choosing. Sure, they’ll say it is because we have to save money but they’ll do so without a hint of irony for the reasons why.
It’s because their party has gutted local government funding.
The financing of public services is broken and the current model guarantees that if nothing changes, every council in the country will go ‘bust’. It is not a matter of if, but a matter of when. Those councils with the most robust finances, such as Southend which ranks in the top 25%, will go bust a lot slower than others such as Thurrock, Slough, or Woking.
This is because since 2010, local government finances have taken a battering from this Tory government with cuts to Revenue Support Grants of circa 90% at the same time that councils have taken on more statutory responsibilities and demand has increased in housing, homelessness, social care, and children’s services.
All political group leaders wrote to the chancellor to explain what needs to happen to save public services, but the letter was both too little too late and ignored by the chancellor.
There was no money for social care or children’s services in the Autumn Statement and the “tax cuts” aren’t actually cuts at all because the tax burden has gone up so high.
Even businesses are being squeezed more with a new rates multiplier. The letter to the chancellor was requested by the Labour Group months ago. In fact, we wrote our own weeks before the Tory Leader of the Council was dragged into signing one, admitting that his party has failed Southend.
People feel like they pay more council tax and get less in return from their council services.
This is true. Council tax has gone up around 40% in Southend since 2010 yet many services are reduced or have disappeared altogether. This happens because the council, like every other council, needs to find money for statutory services, which are under enormous strain.
In Southend, we had £13.5m of projected overspend in Adult Social Care and Children’s Social Services, which made up the majority of the projected £14m overspend across all services. This has been reduced down to £11m by making severe cuts in other areas.
And to make matters worse, the council will be making significant redundancies. This is wrong because money doesn’t deliver services, people deliver services. The fewer people we have delivering services, especially the preventative ones that are under threat of closure, the more pressure we store up in statutory services in the future.
So what can we do about it? Vote them out, locally and nationally. That’s a start, but before then we all need to keep an eye out for the consultations that will need to be conducted and we need to tell the Tory council that we want them to keep our libraries and our children’s services open.
Politics is about choices. The Tories are making their choices. We can make ours, when the polls next open.
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