The Leader of Somerset Council says many possible savings proposals will need to be considered amid a ‘stark and challenging’ financial position.
It comes after we reported that Somerset Council’s Executive had earlier this month declared a ‘financial emergency’ in response to soaring costs and demands on services.
Councillors on the Liberal Democrat-controlled authority voted to agree the declaration at a meeting in Yeovil and set out a series of actions it needs to take.
Cllr Bill Revans, pictured, said this week: “We’ve been saying for some time that the funding model for local government is broken as our costs are rising faster than our income, especially in Adult Social Care.”
“Sadly, while this is a national problem, it will soon have a very real impact on local public services. We’ve said this is a financial emergency, now we’re seeing what that looks like in reality.”
The council’s latest budget papers, published on Tuesday (November 28th) ahead of the Council’s Executive on 6th December, show the in-year overspend for 2023/24 has reduced from £27m to £19m, while the budget gap for 2024/25 has reduced from £100m to £87m.
However, in order to close the gap and balance the budget next year a series of service reductions, efficiency savings, and increases to fees and charges, including Council Tax, will need to be considered. The report highlights a number of services which could be “redesigned, reduced or even stopped,” subject to consultation.
There is also a warning that even that may not be enough to fully close the gap, and a planned transformation programme will need to be accelerated and broadened to reduce the size of the council in future.
Cllr Revans adds: “No decisions have yet been made but it’s clear we’re going to have to look carefully at every saving proposal. It’s either that or we follow the likes of Birmingham and Croydon Councils and serve a S114 notice. Both scenarios mean we will be effectively setting an emergency budget in February.”
“We will take these hard decisions, working with national government, our communities and our partners to minimise the impacts on our residents and achieve the best outcome possible in this awful situation.”
“I am pleased to have spoken to some of our MPs to outline the situation at Somerset Council and they have agreed to speak up for us. I would urge residents to lobby your local MP and ask them to join us in rolling up our sleeves to work together for the people of Somerset.”
The Council’s Executive will discuss the budget at its meeting on 6 December. This will be followed by a public consultation exercise. The papers can be found at Financial Strategy Update – Nov 23 (somerset.gov.uk).
Final decisions to set a balanced budget for 2024/25 will be taken by Full Council in February 2024.