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3 of the ugliest and morally questionable manifesto pledges we have agreed so far

Set against the backdrop of national debt of £2.5 trillion, interest payments of which equate to the fourth largest department in the budget, and a continuous overspend of billions of pounds each quarter further adding to the debt, it is nearly impossible for Southend to ever see the £50 million grants returning to ease the ever increasing financial burden that sees the council heading towards de-facto bankruptcy, and a raft of jobs and services cut.

The previous coalition were going to charge us to park in our parks; reduce grass cutting to once a year under the guise of re-wilding; keep our street lighting below 100%; evict Jazz UK, charge to go to the toilet; allowed tenders for fortnightly bin collections; and increased council tax repeatedly by the maximum 5% and increased parking and other fees and charges by 10%. Now, we face cuts to dementia, family centres; non-statutory adult social services, discussions on sick pay; have just about avoided the closure of libraries for now, and it is confirmed our bin collections are going fortnightly. Whether through waste, incompetence or corruption, we pay enormous amounts of tax and yet all parties are faced with the same impossible choices.

Aside from efficiencies that should already be identified and rectified, we can no longer afford to pay what we do, and we either sack people and lose services or reduce the amount we pay for them.

Many have questioned the morality of this line of thought and many of our members had deep concerns, but is it better to cut dementia services or ask the higher tiers of the council to take a small cut? Because that is the choice and we have chosen the latter.

The 3 Votes

We voted to support a review of the Executive team’s remuneration with a view to reduce or freeze their pay. A 10% cut would save £200K and would enable dementia services to continue as they are. It would also act as a symbolic move that may restore faith back into our leadership. It may also inspire our next policy to support implementing voluntary remuneration reviews for all staff above £50K. A 10% cut, for example, would save vast sums that may help to keep the libraries open. Lastly, we voted in favour of reducing the remuneration packages of all new council employees once the post has been left vacant.

In normal circumstances, council remuneration would never be an issue to discuss, however, in the current financial environment we are in desperate times, and extraordinary actions are needed for consideration.

There are some who call the idea of imminent bankruptcy 'hyperbole', but the council has been risk assessed as 4 out of 4 on both counts of the severity of bankruptcy and the likelihood of it happening according to the Corporate Risk Register. The consequences are that only statutory services will likely continue as commissioners come in and make their decisions about how to keep Southend going.

For those who work in the council, this will no doubt cause enormous stress and anxiety, and we certainly are not looking to vilify or scapegoat anyone.

It feels like political suicide, but Southend is far more important than a political party. We truly believe it is the right thing to do given the circumstances.

There are potentially other ways to avoid this by utilising the Capital Receipts Flexibility Programme, which enable assets to be sold and proceeds used if it is forecast to generate ongoing revenue savings and/or demand for services in the future. (I await my question at Full Council on 22nd February on this). For example, the £10m locked in the Victoria Shopping Centre acquisition could be sold off. And being that Wilkos' exit puts revenues under threat and that £4m has been spent on repairs so far, it could be a welcome sale for many reasons.

We never set out to launch such ugly policies, and no one is proud of the vote we have taken. However, the question I have asked those who have taken an opposing view is what would they do instead?

So far, the answers have yet to come. Only scathing attacks and cries of immorality. But, as already mentioned, which is more immoral? Sacking people or retaining jobs and services?

This vote was taken unanimously by all members who attended the meeting. For a full set of minutes:

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