Southend Council’s Budget: Labour questions Tory prioritiesSouthend Labour Party has challenged some decisions taken in Southend Council’s recent budget.
At the May 2016 local elections, Conservatives had argued to ‘keep Council Tax as low as possible’, yet they have just produced a budget setting the biggest Council Tax rise for a decade. Conservatives were also anxious that the previous coalition administration shouldn’t squander the Council’s reserves, and yet today the current administration is engaged in one of the biggest raids on reserves ever seen.
Southend Labour Party considers that the Government’s austerity policy has been a dramatic failure, and it was a Conservative Councillor who said at the last Council meeting: “you can’t cut your way to prosperity”.
When the previous coalition administration increased parking charges the Conservatives complained about it, although they now happily receive this additional car parking revenue into Council coffers.
Conservatives pledged that they would cut the size of the Cabinet from seven to six, but instead they have increased the number to eight. A Conservative Councillor described the setting of new crematorium fees as a ‘tax on death’, but puzzlingly those increases were not reversed.
Perhaps we can excuse the apparent hypocrisy of individual councillors, if they can be seen to be broadly doing a good job. Unfortunately, Southend Borough faces major problems:
• Our local Police Service is in crisis. Conservative Cllr Flewitt has stated that there are streets in Southend that are becoming lawless.
• Our NHS is in crisis. Conservative Cllr Salter said, at the last Council meeting, that she believes the system is underfunded.
• There are now over 2,000 people on our housing waiting list, with many living in unsuitable and overcrowded conditions, yet properties only become available in single figures each month.
• Adult Social Care is in crisis. Domiciliary care has fallen below standard, costs are being squeezed, carers are being paid a pittance, lengths of visits cut, and vulnerable people treated without the dignity and compassion that they deserve.
In adult social care there are cases of missed visits, delayed visits, and poor quality visits, which can be a matter of life and death to people who depend on these services. It is clear that the Council does not adequately monitor the quality of the care we pay for, and we place too much trust in private companies to do the right thing.
The Labour Party proposed that an extra £120K should be put into Adult Social Care next year, with more pro-active checks, more rigorous follow-up when things go wrong, and adequate records to assess the quality and reliability of our service. The voluntary sector should be strengthened and better technology available to monitor care visits for our vulnerable and elderly, which could prove cheaper and more efficient than our current methods.
Ian Gilbert, Leader of the Labour Group on Southend Council, said: “I am pleased that the Council supports the concept of a trading company for adult social care; that they are progressing plans for the Queensway Estate; that they are planning further investment in green, energy-saving technology.”
Ian added: “When we were in administration we took hard decisions that gave the council the best chance of being able to balance the books in future years, and that is the key reason we see no big cuts or closures in this budget. When we entered administration we did so with big ideas. Not just talking about the derelict buildings on Victoria Avenue, but actually instructing officers to build a case for compulsory purchase - clearly the then owners got the message we were serious.”
Deputy Leader of the Labour Group, Julian Ware-Lane said: "There is a distinct lack of imagination in the budget. I guess the local Tories are in a jam, insofar that they are shuffling the pack as well as they can in the face of further savage cuts from their Government."