Published: February 15, 2011
Burnham-On-Sea councillor hits back in debate over cash cuts

A Burnham-On-Sea county councillor has this week hit out at the town's MP over comments she made in the House of Commons regarding the potential closure of Highbridge Library and Somerset County Council's financial cuts.

Peter Burridge-Clayton, the Conservative councillor for Burnham North, responded to Tessa Munt's comments in parliament, which were first reported here.

Talking to this week, Peter said: "There were several reasons why Highbridge Library came under the spotlight for closure. Tough choices had to be made and there was a need to make cuts somewhere."

"In terms of cost per visit, it is the fourth most expensive in the county. Although the ‘catchment’ of Burnham is nine times as large as Highbridge, Burnham’s library is used almost 15 times more often."

"The users of Highbridge Library have a large library nearby to them - Burnham - which is relatively easily accessible. Personally, I think it is important to retain Highbridge Library and therefore a month ago I proposed that the Town Council should use some of the money put aside for such issues to ensure its survival."

"The proposal would have required some voluntry support, but at least it would have remained open. This proposal at that time was rejected and it was also rejected by members of Ms Munt's Liberal Democrat party."

Mr Burridge-Clayton went on to explain why he believes Somerset County Council is having to make cuts in its services across the region, including Burnham and Highbridge.

He said: "Perhaps it is because MPs, including Mrs Munt, voted for a reduction in grants to SCC. As for the general issues of Ms Munt's statement in the House of Commons, as well as the £8m reduction in spending power that she mentions - it’s actually £7.4m - there's also £6.7m of NHS grant that’s included in our calculation, but which the NHS have control over. In addition, there's £8m of loss or reduction in other grants, meaning that we’re actually facing a reduction of £22.1m in our funding."

"Of course, that’s only half the story, as our cost pressures haven’t stood still, so we’ve had to fund pressures of £5m for inflation, £5m for children’s social care, £3m for adult social care etc. Even though we’ve worked very hard to manage these pressures and bear the extra costs where we have been able to, we were faced with a budget gap of £34m that had to be closed through savings/cuts."

He continued: "SCC have only got £14m of reserves, which is on the very low side for an organisation our size (gross budget of £800m), so to eat into them and deplete them further would be very imprudent."

"As for capital grants, the direct grant replaces supported borrowing, so it’s not additional money. In layman’s terms, instead of being given permission to borrow the money from the government, the government are giving us the money directly, so one funding mechanism replaces the other. It does benefit SCC in so much as they are not having to pay the interest on the borrowing, but in no way is it £42m of additional funding."

"I am afraid if you vote for something in parliament, then you have to stand up and be counted when the impact of that hits your constituency. No amount of standing around with a placard posing for photographs will resolve these problems. We need action, not political digs, from our MP."

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