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Hard truth: Pay less or see jobs and services cut in Southend.

The country has no money, either through waste, incompetence or corruption, and we cannot spend beyond our means locally.  We can either keep all services and jobs by reviewing the remuneration of everyone on the payroll or we can cut vital services.  I believe it vital that this subject returns to the top of the council agenda for discussion at the very least.


Despite the UK paying £786 billion in tax last year - a £464 billion increase compared with 2000 - the national debt has accumulated to £2.5 trillion as consecutive governments continually miss balancing the books by billions of pounds.  The interest on the debt is around the same as the fourth largest department in the country! In other words, unsustainable. The UK is quite possibly bust, we just don’t know it yet.


When those who point towards tens of millions of pounds of cuts in national grants as the cause of the current Southend Council financial crisis, whilst they may be right, it doesn’t look like that is going to change any time soon.  If Labour win the next election and return the grants to previous levels, it can be assumed they will only be able to do this by getting us into further debt.


The deficit in Southend has now shrunk to around £6 million from a starting point of around £16 million over the last year or so, but the Tories are still chasing down the cuts.


Several libraries have escaped for now, but we have seen public consultations to reduce dementia services, close down six family centres, and other services in adult and child social care. 80 jobs have reportedly been earmarked to be lost with more to come, and the dismantling of Southend continues.


This comes on top of the previous Labour, Lib Dem and Indie Group coalition wanting to charge us to park in parks, reduce grass cutting to once a year under the guise of ‘re-wilding’, allowing waste contractors to tender for fortnightly bin collections, and putting parking, council tax and all fees and charges up by between 5% and 10% over consecutive years. I don’t blame either party - they’ve got to do something to negate the disappearing grants.  Yet, this is not the only challenge they face, nor are they the only solutions.


Pay


The simple solution is to pay less to the people who provide the services, but is it moral and/or legal?


The Lower End


The Local Government Agency has disclosed that increases to the National Living Wage over the years have put serious pressures on council budgets across the country, which often change after the budgets are set, meaning they need to accommodate the increase somehow.  On top of this, there is a principle established by the ‘National Employers’ that local government should always pay above the NLW.


The truth is, and as immoral as it may sound, we just cannot afford any of it if we want the same level of service, and as cold and heartless as it sounds, when an organisation runs out of money, difficult decisions needs to be taken to ensure it’s survival - and in the council’s case, bankruptcy looms.


The council have the power to set the pay and they could, moving forward, keep it at the flat rate of the National Living Wage rather than keeping with the principle and paying above the rate.  The question might be if national government see the NLW rate as moral, why should local government think any differently?


It is an ugly choice that would see an uproar from many, especially in a ‘cost of living crisis’, and would I want to do it? Absolutely not.  Should the lower paid make sacrifices for the mistakes of the powerful? Of course not. Do I feel we might have to?  Well, I am not entirely sure we have a choice.


The Top End


In regard to the higher levels, the Local Government Agency confirmed that salaries for senior staff are determined locally, and “there is scope for them to be adjusted, subject to all the proper regs, checks, balances and local agreement.” Wouldn’t it send a powerful message to Southend residents if our new Chief Executive, on a package of over £225K, and the rest of the Executive team on £100K plus, led by example and showed we’re all in this together by taking a cut? The argument is how can we attract the quality if we don’t pay the going rate.  I would ask, do we really want anybody who is not prepared to make the sacrifice when the need is there?


The middle


For everyone else on the Southend Council payroll, legally, you can’t cut pay unless it is agreed on a voluntary basis by the employee.


If there was a review of everyone above the National Living Wage, how low should the notion of voluntary pay adjustments go?  Is it £40K plus?  If I have worked hard and do a good job, earning my £45K salary plus general package, should I volunteer a pay cut to £40K?  Of course not, but would I prefer the option of keeping my job? Yes.


I believe most of the 80 redundancies identified might like that choice - including those twelve ‘Dementia Navigators’ currently set to lose their jobs in sacrifice to save £280K and cost a vital service.


If no one is prepared to discuss voluntary amendments, at the very least, it would be prudent to review the remuneration of future contracts to ensure they are more in keeping with the financial restraints.


I am aware that what I have written here will make me extremely unpopular to some, maybe most, but as someone who believes deeply in democracy, I would respect those that, out of an impossible choice, would rather live with the loss of jobs and services than conduct a review of remuneration.  If that was the case, then it would be time to join the Tories and Labour into all the other unpalatable options that lay before them.

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