September 27, 2016
Funding fears raised in Burnham as council faces £24m overspend

Concerns have been raised this week that a projected £24m overspend at Somerset County Council may result in some public services in Burnham-On-Sea and Highbridge being cut back.

The county council's Cabinet discussed its first quarter financial report at a meeting on Monday where the forecast of an in-year overspend of £24m was revealed - if its current rates of spending continue for the rest of the year.

The County Council is calling for "collective pressure on the Government" as it wrestles with the impacts of falling funding and increasing costs.

Burnham Lib Dem town councillor Phil Havey told "The Conservative-controlled County Council has got themselves into this mess unnecessarily. They have not put up council tax bills for eight years which may be electorally popular but has now left them in this difficult position where painful cutbacks look inevitable."

"It's hard to see this not having a local impact in the Burnham-On-Sea and Highbridge area but I just hope that our schools, adult education services and libraries don't feel any impact. I also hope that local social services are not affected because those facilities directly impact people's lives. They have to be protected."

The leader of the County Council, Cllr John Osman, is writing to the Prime Minister this week setting out the "huge pressures" facing the authority as it looks to reduce a significant projected in-year overspend.

The County Council’s Cabinet Member for Resources, Cllr Harvey Siggs, is also lobbying local MPs - including Burnham-On-Sea MP James Heappey - to make clear the impact that falling funding is having on local authorities.

The biggest projected overspends are in Adult Social Care (£12.8m) where demand for increasingly expensive support continues to rise, and Children’s Services (£9.5m) where use of agency staff to reduce workloads and improve performance have added significantly to spending.

"We must remember that these are projected, not actual overspends," said Cllr Osman. "We have a comprehensive plan to bring them down but that doesn’t change the fact that this is a serious situation."

"Over the last five years we have had to make savings of around £100m. We are not alone in having these sorts of pressures. Together with other local authorities we need to exert strong and collective pressure on the Government, making it clear that this cannot continue without having an impact on what we are able to do for our residents."

"Sadly, we can no longer provide all the things that we would want to provide. We have to focus on critical services to the vulnerable and have to think very hard about spending on anything beyond that."

Earlier in September, Somerset County Council managers were told that it is essential that in-year spending is brought down. Actions include a continued spending freeze and tighter controls on recruitment and the use of agency staff.

On top of the savings it has had to make so far, the County Council says it expects to lose a further £40m of direct government funding by 2020/2021.

Meanwhile, costs increase, for example over the last three years the council says it has had to spend an extra £8m on supporting vulnerable adults.

Pictured: Above, Somerset County Council's headquarters


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