Published: February 3, 2013
Burnham-On-Sea councillor launches petition against financial cuts

A Burnham-On-Sea councillor has launched an online petition in protest at proposed financial cuts to family support services run by Somerset County Council.

Over 70 people have already signed the petition here, launched by Burnham and Highbridge district councillor Helen Groves, to air their concerns at the "deeply worrying" proposed cuts.

The County Council's proposed cutbacks include £2.5m from its Care and Support budget; reducing teacher and family support posts to save £1.4m; reducing highway lighting hours to save £100,000; cutting the budget for sex education in Somerset's schools by £44,000; and bringing in charges to special needs students for college transport to save £43,000.

Cllr Groves told "The announced cuts by Somerset County Council are deeply worrying. The proposals are clearly attacking those who are most vulnerable and in desperate need. The devastating cuts to the provision of services such as family support and educational psychology are ill-considered and short-sighted."

"Children with physical, learning and behavioural difficulties have the best long-term outcomes through early diagnosis and intervention. Unassisted, it is recognised that educational and social outcomes are generally poor and many children go on to develop far more complex behavioural issues which ultimately may require multi agency support - at far greater cost."

"I cannot begin to express the impact this will have upon families who rely upon these services. Children who are identified as having difficulties at pre-school ages have the best educational outcomes where early support is given. Services such as educational psychology, family support and home visiting for families of children who are suffering the most severe educational needs and disabilities are a lifeline for the families affected."

"The reduction of service will mean that this already over strained service will struggle to meet demand, that families who are going through the lengthy and often traumatic experience of diagnosis will be left without support and isolated."

"Reductions to these services will ensure that support is not available to all who need it. This is a service already operating under severe strain, with families waiting already at times more than a year to access educational psychology, many months to engage with family support and unable to access basic support without the provision of outreach."

However, Somerset County Council says it is operating in a "tough environment" after a reduced financial settlement from the government that will see it operating with £20million less than last year.

"It is extremely difficult and challenging when our income goes down, but the number of people needing our help is going up," said Council Leader John Osman this week. "Just one example, a few years ago over 350 children were in care in Somerset. Now that figure is more than 525, and rising. Each child can cost the authority £3,000-£5,000 a week to look after. Of course we want to look after them to the best of our abilities, but it’s a very significant expense."

The County Council's draft budget proposals - which will include a freeze in council tax for a fourth year running, spending an extra £4.8 million on vulnerable children and adults, and spending millions extra on repairing roads after recent severe weather - will be discussed later this month.

The County Council says its proposals will see services reorganised and in some areas modernised to "bring significant efficiencies and savings". The proposals include modernising care services, committing to keep all 41 Children’s Centres open and reorganising and restructuring the service, and developing more efficient working practices with schools and early years providers.

"These are very tough times for all councils across the country, it is no different in Somerset," added Cllr Osman. "We have protected some areas for the coming year, like youth services, libraries, and school crossing patrol officers. We will continue with our priorities, to care for people who need it, and to deliver all our services with the best possible value for money."


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