Purpose of Project

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.