SOUTHEND Council has notched up more than £355milion in debt in the last ten years as it struggles to maintain services, figures reveal.

The city is among council across the country which currently owe a combined £97.8billion to lenders, according to analysis of data from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC ) equivalent to £1,455 per UK resident, as of September 2023.

The analysis by the Shared Data Unit shows Southend, which has a population of 180,620 owes £355,461,000 or £1,968 per resident, as successive administrations struggled to maintain services.

Town halls across the country have bought hundreds of commercial assets from shopping centres, to office parks, cinemas, energy companies and housing developments.

But council leaders, who have seen government grant funding reduce by 40 per cent in real terms since 2010, have had to borrow increasing amounts to pay for those investments.

This has mainly been through an arm of the Treasury known as the Public Works Loan Board.

The city bought the Victoria shopping centre for £10million in 2020, under the previous Labour-lead joint administration with borrowing costs currently costing about £500,000 a year.

The council is predicted to have a £35million budget gap by 2029 thanks to repayments, underfunding and rising social care costs.

Tony Cox, leader of the council, said: “Council’s borrow to finance their capital investment programmes alongside the use of other sources such as external funding and government capital grants.

“The council has been prudent in its borrowing and invests in the infrastructure and maintenance of our key assets such as the Pier, roads and pavements, housing, and major regeneration such as the development of Airport Business Park Southend.”

Mr Cox added: “Recognising the recent financial challenges facing the authority, our capital investment programme has been further reviewed to ensure the five year programme is deliverable and affordable.”

“Any borrowing is undertaken with all necessary due diligence to ensure the best financial position for the council and local taxpayers.

“Borrowing at the right time when interest rates are low has helped to reduce the councils average overall borrowing rate to 3.46 per cent and this compares very favourably with all other unitary authorities.

A DLUHC spokesperson said: “Councils are ultimately responsible for their own finances, but we are very clear they should not put taxpayers’ money at risk by taking on excessive debt.

“The Levelling Up and Regeneration Act provides new powers for central government to step in when councils take excessive risk with borrowing and investment.”