Somerset County Council’s Cabinet Committee this week approved the “most difficult savings proposals it has had to consider” to help secure its long-term financial sustainability.
Cabinet also agreed to defer a decision on proposed saving for its Young Carers Service. This is to allow time for discussions with carers, families and the voluntary sector about a different way of providing the support – with potentially more input from voluntary groups which can access funding not available to the Council.
Council Leader, Councillor David Fothergill, said: “We believe there’s a better model for delivering support for Young Carers and want to work with the carers, families and the voluntary sector to find it. We have listened where we can.”
The County Council, like many across the country, is facing huge pressures on its finances after sustained funding reductions from central government and increased demands and costs.
The proposals agreed, which cover all aspects of Council services, aim to address a projected £11.4m overspend this financial year and lay the foundations for longer-term financial sustainability.
They should save around £13m over the remainder of this financial year and £15m in total including 2019/20. Of the £13m, around £8m would be found without impacts on services – by using existing funds more flexibly and funding more work through the sale of assets.
In some cases the decision was to take forward proposals, in others Cabinet gave approval for consultations to take place ahead of potential decisions. Up to 130 staff posts could be lost subject to the relevant consultations.
Cllr Fothergill said: “I care about the services and the vulnerable children and adults we support. This is a very difficult and challenging time.
“This is not the biggest set of saving Somerset has faced. But it is absolutely the most difficult set of decisions we have had to consider.
“The Government model for funding local authorities is broken. Rural councils like ours don’t get the funding they need or deserve. I’ve taken every opportunity to lobby and fight to address this, but there has been no extra funding. That is hugely disappointing.”
Like local authorities across the country, especially those responsible for vulnerable children and adults, the County Council’s finances have been hit by massive reductions in funding and increasing costs and demand. In the last eight years it has made savings and efficiencies of around £130m.
“These are very difficult decisions that none of us want to be faced with,” said Cllr Fothergill. “But this council, legally, has to deliver a balanced budget. We cannot overspend and have to live within our means.
“I will once again write to the Secretary of State pointing out the consequences of the last budget and asking for help within the next budget – I would welcome leaders from all other political parties to join me in this letter.”
The savings include:
- Compulsory two days’ unpaid for all staff and councillors for the next two years (subject to consultation). (approx. £1m)
- Reducing the winter gritting network from 23 to 16 routes (£120,000)
- Suspending the County Council’s funding for Taunton’s two Taunton Park and Ride services. (£170,000). These will now be funded by Taunton Deane Borough Council until September 2019. The County Council is committed to working with TDBC and First Bus to make the service sustainable.
- Removal of administration funding from the four district Citizens Advice Bureau services, protecting the grant (£469,000)
- Reduction in the Council’s early help support, including getset services and Youth Services (£2.2m)
- Reduced contribution to reserves (£1.9m)
- Changes to Learning Disability contract (£770,000)
- Cancelling and reducing ICT contracts and licences (£129,000)
Following the Cabinet’s decisions, a request has been made for an extraordinary Council meeting. This will be considered by the Chair of the Council in due course.
The full reports from the meeting can be found on the Council’s website