COUNCIL tax, parking charges and other fees will be frozen as Southend Council seeks to protect residents from savage budget cuts.

The controversial closure of a care home and handing over branch libraries to volunteers to run, already approved by the authority in the face of strong public opposition, have helped the council shave £7.3million from its budget for the next financial year.

Almost 50 jobs are set to go as the council seeks to balance the books in the face of a £7.6million drop in Government funding - but most roles are backroom staff as the administration tries to preserve frontline services.

Council house rent is expected to rise by between 5.48 per cent and 8.98 per cent, in line with Government guidelines.

Councillor Nigel Holdcroft, Leader of the Council, said: “These financial decisions are becoming harder and harder to make, as the challenges of austerity measures bite ever deeper and the levels of Government funding reduce.

“We are constantly trying to balance the needs of the most vulnerable while doing everything we can to preserve essential services - where we have a growing demand.

“This is the ninth year running where we have had to deliver significant savings. If this budget is approved, we will have achieved a total of £79million savings during those nine years – the equivalent of a 129.6 per cent council tax hike.

“We have been able to safeguard core front line services by reviewing and reassessing how these are delivered.

“Where necessary we have redesigned our approach to ensure that these services remain cutting edge and receptive to the needs of residents while being financially sustainable.

“To help our residents and businesses during these tough financial times, we are freezing council tax for the third time in four years, as well as freezing parking charges, and leisure charges.”

The closure of Priory House care home and day centre in Prittlewell Chase, approved in November(2013), is expected to save the council £540,000 through the loss of staff and running costs.

But the department for people, which through a £4.5million drop in funding will bear the brunt of the cuts, has also managed to save £300,000 by merging its teams that deal with adults and children, with the loss of 11 backroom staff.

Handing over Westcliff and Southchurch to volunteers, also approved in November(2013), should save the authority £126,000 as eight roles go.

But the council is also investing £710,000 to install wireless internet in all branches and begin work to open a new library in Delaware Road, Shoebury, to replace nearby Thorpedene and Friars libraries, which are earmarked for closure Officers have also saved £150,000 be renegotiating the council’s contract with charity Legacy Leisure to run its leisure centres.

A further £10,000 will be saved by reducing the number of councillors on the council’s cabinet from eight to seven.