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Southend needs the room to grow
DOCTORS could one day prescribe patients walks along the pier or visits to the gym, Southend’s town clerk predicts.
Rob Tinlin, chief executive of Southend Council also foresees a south Essex “super council” and staff members forming cooperatives to sell their services back to managers as he stares into the local authority crystal ball with the Echo’s political reporter, DAVID TRAYNER.
MOST chief executives would boast of expanding their workforce and increasing their turnover.
But while Southend Council is one of the town’s biggest employers and has the budget of amajor company, the man at the top is expected to do more with less – and less and less.
Since becoming chief executive in 2005, Rob Tinlin, the council’s most senior officer and the man charged with making councillors’ decisions work, has balanced the books and overseen the renewal of Southend’s 1960s infrastructure.
The authority won the Local Government Chronicle’s Council of the Year award in 2012 – but you could be forgiven for thinking he is slowly doing himself out of a job.
Mr Tinlin will cut his working hours to four days a week from next month.
His salary will drop from £119,105 from April, down from £128,424. He has also waived all bonuses.
He said: “When I joined I was in charge of 2,500 staff members, with another 2,500 in schools, and had a turnover of £500million.
This year we will have 1,700 and a turnover of £430million.”
But while Mr Tinlin sees the role of local authorities changing even after the national economy picks up, he expects Southend and its council to grow, rather than shrink, to cope with ongoing budget pressures.
Like retiring Tory council leader Nigel Holdcroft, with whom he has worked closely for the past seven years, Mr Tinlin believes Southend Council will have to join with other nearby local authorities, such as Castle Point and Rochford, to keep delivering services residents demand in the face of plummeting income.
He said: “When the Boundary Commission was looking what to do in Essex in the 1990s, the argument should have been far stronger for a south east Essex unitary authority.
“They just set us up with the old borough boundary of eight miles by two-and-a-half.
“We have got no room to grow or develop or breathe.”
The Government slashed a tenth from the grants that make up the lion’s share of Southend Council’s revenue this year, meaning Mr Tinlin’s finance team had to find £7.6million of savings. The drop came on top of a £3.2million cut last year and Mr Tinlin is expecting another 11 per cent fall next year.
Overall the authority has reduced spending by £79million over the past eight years and has shed just under 250 posts in the past three.
Mr Tinlin accused Communities Secretary Eric Pickles, who is also MP for Brentwood and Ongar, of hamstringing local authorities by banning them from raising council tax by 2 per cent without a local referendum.
He said: “If we have a council who have to be accountable to the local electorate, they should be allowed tomake decisions and be judged on them.
“But we have great pressure from central Government to freeze council tax.”
Southend Council is paying private firms and charities to provide more and more of the services it used to deliver, with Cory Environmental collecting rubbish and cleaning streets, HQ Theatres running the Cliffs Pavilion and Palace Theatre and charity Legacy Leisure running the council’s leisure centres.
Last year’s controversial decision to close the council’s last two care homes, Priory House in Westcliff, and Delaware House, in Shoebury, revealed private firms could look after residents at half the cost.
In future, Mr Tinlin believes more groups of staff members might club together to form notfor- profit companies, known as “mutuals”, which the authority could pay to provide services they used to offer in-house.
Former council workers set up bike shop the Comfy Saddle, in Southend Central Station, which the authority pays to encourage cycling.
The town clerk expects the biggest change – and opportunity – for local authorities is the move to combine the funding pot for social care, provided by councils, and health, provided by the NHS.
Southend Hospital has already praised the council for helping free up beds by ensuring the elderly can be cared for in the community again quickly after an illness or injury. But Mr Tinlin envisions a more radically holistic approach to improve public health, prevent hospital visits and thus ease joint budgets.
He said: “Why aren’t we using the pier as a health facility? Why can’t doctors prescribe five return walks a week down the pier or five swims or Zumba classes a week in our leisure centres?
“Where can we go to see that real integration of what we do with what health does?”
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