Welcome to Southend Community Focus

A project designed to help us better understand Southend City Council’s spending AND find ways to maintain essential local services

The Challenge

As at the start of 2024, Southend City Council faces a daunting annual budget deficit of over £10 million.

This financial strain threatens to impact various services, many of which, though non-statutory, are vital to our community’s well-being, such as dementia support programs.

But we firmly believe that these services can be saved from closure

We believe that by scrutinising how and where the Council spends money we will, together, be able to identify better ways of working and highlight cost savings that do not impact on service provision.

At this stage that is just a belief.

Work needs to be completed before any concrete suggestions can be put forward, but we believe that whatever the outcome of our work is, there will be positives that can be drawn from it.

Potential Positive 1: Savings can be found and suggested to the Council

This is the most desirable outcome.

On face value, as the Council’s annual expenditure across all services is around the £450 million pound mark (See: Accounts Year Ended 31 March 2022 showing total spending of £456,729,000), it doesn’t feel like it’s such an unattainable position that the Council could ‘only’ spend around £440 million pounds, while maintaining the same level of services.

If this is possible, it would mean that no services would need to be closed and the deficit of £10 million pounds would also be covered.

Potential Positive 2: If no savings can be found, even after extensive public scrutiny, then that’s surely very strong evidence to present to Government that further assistance in central funding needs to be explored

The personal impression I get, is that there seems to be a widely held belief in Westminster that Councils up and down the country are generally not operating in a financially efficient way.

I think that this belief underpins central funding decisions (just my personal opinion).

Councils however appear have a different view as to what the current position is.

The commonly expressed opinion is that they are genuinely and unavoidably in the position where the costs of the statutory services they are legally obliged to provide are now so expensive that those costs outstrip the Council’s available income.

If that is the case, then surely the Council must and should make representations to Government about further central assistance.

But the problem with that, is how can the Council demonstrate that its unpleasant financial position is genuine and unavoidable’ to the satisfaction of the Government?

We suggest that evidence of a thorough and robust review of expenditure (carried out by itself AND the local community) would go a long way to support that position.

And if all cost saving ideas identified by those two reviews have been implemented, but a budget deficit still remains, that would surely be a compelling argument to put to Government Ministers when asking for further assistance.

The two positive outcomes above can be achieved by public scrutiny of the Council’s financial data

Unfortunately though, scrutinising financial data produced by the Council is not that easy!

As an example, the annual published Accounts that the Council produces is often 150+ pages in length, making it almost impossible for most people to read and understand.

And then there are the monthly lists of expense items that are individually over £500 each.

Around 2010/2011, a significant change in transparency unfolded across the UK as many Councils (Southend included) began publishing details of all items of expenditure over £500.

This initiative was aimed at empowering citizens, dubbed ‘armchair auditors’, to oversee the council’s spending habits, identify potential savings, and suggest improvements.

However the monthly lists on their own, when downloaded, are not easy to read.

They are simply a long list of expenditure items that require sorting and analysing if any meaningful conclusions can be drawn from them.

Attempting to turn the ‘raw data’ of the Council’s financial output into a format that can be easily understood and discussed is the idea behind Southend Community Focus.

Our mission

Today, Southend Community Focus stands as a (non-political) dedicated platform to review, analyse, and discuss the Council’s expenditure.

We aim to:

  1. Enhance public understanding of how and where our Council spends its budget (by making it easier for people to get to grips with the financial information that the Council publishes) and;
  2. Foster a collaborative environment where community members can review and discuss finance information as well as contributing ideas that will assist in protecting the financial well-being of our City.

How You Can Help

  1. Data Analysis: Help us to check and review the council’s spending data by looking at the analysis we publish. Look for patterns, overspends or unnecessary costs, and identify any areas where savings might be possible.
  2. Community Discussion: Join in with the online debates. Share your findings and ideas with fellow residents. Engage in meaningful discussions to brainstorm potential improvements.
  3. Feedback to the Council: Our collective insights can make a real difference. By presenting well-researched suggestions to the Council, we can help shape a more sustainable financial future for Southend.

Join Us in this Quest!

A picture showing four people around a table inviting someone to join them

Southend Community Focus wants to be more than just a website—it wants to be a mechanism for real change.

If you have ever felt your voice isn’t listened to, then this is your chance to be heard.

Together, we believe we can make a significant impact.

Your insights, expertise, and passion for our City are invaluable.

Join us in this vital task of reviewing Council expenditure and help to ensure a bright and sustainable future for Southend!

Empowering the Community, Enhancing Transparency, Enriching Southend.

How to Access and Utilise Southend Council’s Spending Data

A detailed image depicting various items typically spent by local councils in England

One of our primary objectives is to enable you to understand and scrutinise the spending of Southend City Council.

A good place to start with fulfilling that aim is to provide you with this brief guide on where to find the Council’s spending data and how it can be used effectively.

Accessing the Data

The Council provide a list of expenditure items that are individually over £500, on a monthly basis.

The available data starts with the 12 months ending in March 2020 (so April 2019 through to March 2020), all the way through to the current financial year of the 12 months ending March 2024.

(At time of writing in early January 2024, the latest available monthly data is for November 2023)

You can find all of the monthly expenditure reports here: Southend Council’s Spending Over £500.

File Formats Available

The data is presented in multiple formats:

  • CSV (Comma-Separated Values): Ideal for analysis in spreadsheet applications like Excel.
  • TXT (Text File): Useful for quick views or importing into other types of software.
  • PDF (Portable Document Format): Best for viewing on a phone or other mobile device

Structure of the Data

The data is arranged in the following columns:

  1. Organisation Name: Identifies the council, in this case, Southend-on-Sea City Council.
  2. Directorate: Indicates the ‘high level’ specific department within the council responsible for the expenditure.
  3. Service Category Label: Describes the type of service for which the expenditure was made, such as Adult Social Care, Children and Education Services and so on.
  4. Service Category Code: Gives the code for the service category
  5. Supplier Name: The name of the supplier receiving the payment.
  6. Payment Date, Transaction Number, and Net Amount: Shows key information about each payment
  7. Purpose of Spend: Provides a brief ‘lower level’ category description of why the expenditure was incurred.
  8. Procurement Category Name: Categorises the type of procurement, such as main contractor services, other agencies, etc.

Analysing the Data

With the data in its raw format, it is not very easy to draw any meaningful conclusions from simply looking through a monthly list. We therefore have chosen to primarily work with the CSV files as this allows the data to be sorted and totalled in Excel in numerous ways such as:

  • Total amount paid to each supplier
  • Total expenditures by different categories

This type of analysis is necessary in order to turn the data into a format that can actually be useful for the purposes of uncovering trends, identifying potential areas of savings, and understanding the allocation of council funds.

Our Role in Analysis

At Southend Community Focus, we are busy sorting, analysing and summarising the monthly data so we can share the results with you.

We will provide copies of the summaries we produce, as well as the underlying transactions that support the totals in the summaries.

Those combined pieces of information should make it straight forward to understand what the total spend in different areas is, as well as allowing us to see the detail of the expenditure in each area.

Stay tuned for the first analysis!

Southend Community Focus: Empowering Citizens through Information and Analysis.