30th March 2020

Budget plans set out thriving and ambitious future for Council

New schools, investment in roads, a boost to local jobs and a dramatically improved financial outlook on a year ago were outlined by Somerset county councillors yesterday.

As well as the investment in services, there was a repeated commitment to no further frontline job cuts at the Council’s Cabinet meeting.

Monday’s (10 February), Cabinet agreed and recommended for Full Council approval a net budget of £338m and total spending in excess of £775m* on services in 2020/21, as well as £319m of investment in capital projects – including school buildings – across 2020 to 2023 – including £133m in the next financial year.

Councillors at next week’s Full Council (19 February) will be asked to approve a balanced budget which takes on board the challenge of rising Adult Social Care demand and costs – achieved without additional service cuts, but instead through efficiencies and service transformation.

If agreed, the proposals would see a 95p per week/month increase in Council Tax for the average Band D property.

As well as an ambitious 2020/21 Capital Programme totalling £133.5m, Councillors will consider a raft of Transformation projects which will improve lives and services and save millions of pounds in the longer term.

Somerset County Council’s Cabinet Member for Resources Cllr Mandy Chilcott said: “Thanks to hard work, dedication, and financial discipline we will be putting forward a balanced budget for next year, without the need to make savings, which is a fantastic achievement, given our position less than 18 months ago. Well done to everybody who has worked so hard to make this possible.”

“Our plans go beyond protecting frontline services, they build on our financial sustainability by maintaining our reserves, investing in our communities and continuing to transform services for the people of Somerset to ensure they more efficient and cost effective, working towards a thriving and ambitious future and preparing for the growing challenge of Climate Change.”

Financial planning for all councils remains a challenge beyond 2020/21 due to funding uncertainties, and a modest budget shortfall of £9.4m over 2021/22 and 22/23 is currently projected. But this will be greatly influenced by the Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review due this year.

 “We will continue to lobby the Government to ensure it meets its commitment on delivering the Spending Review and ending financial uncertainty.” added Cllr Chilcott.

The budget proposals mean the authority’s General Fund reserves, vital to financial stability, are expected to be £19.69m by the end of the current financial year – well within what is considered an appropriate level for an authority the size of Somerset, and if maintained at this level will continued to be so across 21/22 and 22/23.

An increase of 1.99 per cent of the County Council’s element of the Council Tax is proposed, along with a 2 per cent ring-fence for Adult Social Care. The total 3.99 per cent rise equates to a 95p a week increase for a Band D property, and makes available an extra £4.9m for services in general, plus a further £4.9m which will support the demand for growth in Adult Social Care services.

The proposed £133.5m capital programme for 2020/21, funded by government grants, borrowing and capital receipts, includes nearly £47m spent on school builds and expansions, £18m on highways and engineering, £33m on highways and traffic management, and £9.5m on economic development.