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Is it worth investigating why adult and social care costs have risen so dramatically?

Cabinet meeting 12.01.23

The Cabinet of the rainbow coalition met to agree on reports on a substantial number of matters. This kind of meeting is not one of discussion or debate, but rather of ramp and stamp of conversations that were clearly not part of the meeting itself.

It cannot be said categorically that this is true, however, the speed and efficiency and general convivial nature of the meeting indicate this to be the case. Not that this is particularly wrong - it happens all the time in all organisations - however, it does mean that the webcast that has been provided in the name of transparency is not quite fulfilling its purpose.

Furthermore, it means that the public has not been privy to the nuances of the decision-making, and being that this meeting is in effect the most important meeting of all as it directs strategy for every department the council is responsible for, it is quite a disappointment to only see the end result.

Even more so considering the time, effort and money involved in the scrutiny committees. For example, there were hours spent pulling apart the 10-year parking report, which was then sent back to Cabinet.

The portfolio holder in this meeting discussed this subject in less than 5 minutes stating the small changes that were made, and the Cabinet agreed the report. It seemed like the previous meeting was a complete waste of time and sending reports back to cabinet seems quite meaningless.

The meeting reported the £14m projected budgetary overspend that was identified earlier in the year, has been shaved down to £7.4m with £3m of capital spend withdrawn and other items delayed.

When I had first heard of the budget issues my attention was focused on the deficit and how it was so casually communicated like it was nothing particularly concerning.

A few days later it was reported in the Echo and the news soon took hold. The causes were said to have been £3m inflationary pressures and £9m adult and social care.

As time moved on and it was repeatedly voiced that costs involving adult and social care were the main reason that left Southend with an unanticipated and large financial hole, it dawned on me, albeit slowly, to ask the question, why?

The council raised our council last year to include 1.99% specifically for adult and social care, so this should have been taken care of.

Alas, despite this huge tax grab it has not been enough.

What changed? What is the cost within this department that is responsible?

It does not mean we do not believe, as a party, we should do it, it means there is clearly something drastically wrong and it may be worth looking into.

If it is societal then was have a serious problem and that something about the fabric of Southend is starting to unravel. What was the driver of the explosion of problems? Have they now been identified with solutions already in place? What can any of us do to help as part of the voluntary sector? Because if this continues, the majority of our budget will have to head straight into this department.

My hope is that most of the increase was due to paying the living wage.

The living wage, which was mentioned whilst discussing this report, has had dramatic consequences on the council’s budget. Right or wrong, the facts are council tax has had to increase by 4.99% and parking charges up by 10% for this draft budget, as well as an increase in council rents.

It was a Labour manifesto pledge that was made without doing the sums, but to be fair they did say they would do it in their manifesto so there is no surprise here.

Whether this is the reason for the adult and social care cost increase at this time is unknown. If it is, then fair enough. This sector was always vastly under-paid for what they do. However, it might have been more honest for them to just come out and say it.

There is a further £5m increase for council staff due directly to the living wage, as stated by the council. What is also concerning is that the council’s current vacancies on the Southend Council website will add another couple of hundred thousand to the bill if or when the positions are filled! Hopefully, this has already been accrued for, though the budget track record last year might speak otherwise.

They are looking to spend £4m on replacing the ‘My Southend’ section of the website and other tech-related areas. This must be some project as this is far beyond any tech project I have been involved with.

We then move on to a £1.5m commitment for a new climate change provision. Little detail was given on this, but I look forward to reading what is hoped to be achieved.

A report looking to give enforcement powers for traffic offenses through CCTV was agreed. The purpose is to keep Southend moving whilst watching out for law-breakers. Of course, this will mean a significant cost to man it all year round.

Apparently, the Climate hub has been really popular. What are the numbers? How much is that costing and what is it doing? How many people have been there?

Two cafes being built on Shoebury East beach. Welcome the idea of growing business, but is now the right time?

In a time of financial tightening/crisis, I do find it interesting just how many papers and reports are produced over matters I never knew we needed. Someone or a team of people put these together and gets paid for it, and so the question is whether we truly need them.

Did you, for example, ever worry about having a ‘heat stress strategy’?; a grassland management policy to ensure biodiversity?; or a consultation on lanterns on council property?

No, neither did I!

All we care about is putting bread on the table, seeing a doctor, having our children taught properly, and feeling safe in a nice environment. All the rest are peripheral ‘nice to haves’ at best.

It would be interesting, if the council were to invest in tech that allows total spending transparency, what residents would think. My hunch is shorter queues at the hospital, more people to answer the GP's phones, more teachers and so on.

Our money is being prioritised on what appears to be pet projects, self-indulgence, politically advantageous (or coincidentally fortuitous) spend. We are busy fools putting expensive papers together that very few of us asked for.

Last point about ‘Warm hubs’, which was mentioned in this meeting. This was a marketing scheme to highlight public places in Southend that kept the heat on. The portfolio holder reported that the attendance for these venues was no different than normal indicating many things, but mainly that few people went. A noble idea, but I cannot help but think how, in the 21st century, this type of idea is necessary.

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