Agenda item

Update - Somerset Council Financial Position


The Chairman introduced Cllr Theo Butt Philip (Lead Member for Transformation and Human Resources) who provided an update on the financial position of Somerset Council. He noted the authority needed to reduce spending as there was a projected overspend in the current year and pressure to close a forecast £100million budget gap for the coming financial year. He briefly explained how the majority of funding gets allocated, and noted the authority would be asking parishes and communities to look at helping to deliver some non-statutory services if they wish to protect that service in their community. Somerset Council would need to seriously look at what services it could continue to provide into the future, and there were some difficult decisions to be made.


During a question and answer type session, Cllr Theo Butt Philip (Lead Member for Transformation and Human Resources, Kate Hellard (Service Manager LCNs) provided some responses to points of detail. A summary of some of the points and responses are provided below:


·         Assume Council Tax will have to go up and parishes possibly their precepts – so public getting a double whammy?


Finance have already factored in a 5% increase in the Somerset Council element of Council Tax into the £100m shortfall figures. If communities want to see level of services continue as have done until now it will require more money.


·         The £100m gap hasn’t happened overnight – how many years has this situation been building up?


The £100m isn’t a current deficit – it’s what is being forecast for the next financial year. Part of the issue has been the process relating to the Fair Cost of Care exercise which was started, and then postponed with central government not funding the gap – care costs have considerably increased from approx. £500 to £900 per week per person/placement.


·         Have looked at some data since reading the Leader’s letter to parishes. Parish precepts vary hugely depending on the size of the parish. People look at percentages more than the actual figures sometimes. Groups of parishes could group together to share resources. Not sure can just justify increasing parish precepts.


There is limited scope for manoeuvre. Somerset Council may not be able to continue to provide some non-statutory services as no budget. Parishes and communities may need to consider how much they value a specific service, and if the want is great enough, do the parish look to provide/resource that service in their locality.


·         The Leader’s letter only refers to cost cutting with little mention about possibilities to increase income. Would like to see a cost cutting side but also a proactive regeneration side.


We are looking at all the council services including any that people / parishes can buy into.


·         Using the Parish Ranger Scheme as an example (acknowledge the service has been withdrawn) – many people didn’t seem to know about it. There needs to be more promotion of services the council provides to help improve income.


Acknowledged and noted.


·         The council is in serious financial trouble. Larger towns may need to look to the support the nearby smaller parishes – for example arranging a Highway Steward which surrounding parishes could buy into. Parishes need to be more proactive rather than reactive.


Acknowledged and noted.


·         In the small parishes it’s not only finance that’s an issue but also manpower. Worry that many councillors may give up their role going forwards.


Acknowledged and noted.


·         Parishes in this LCN area vary greatly in size. There are several Parish Meetings and they are unable to precept – if they need a budget they would have to undertake a Community Governance Review which takes considerable time.


Acknowledged and noted.



·         There is no mention of cost reduction – what’s happened about the savings in the unitary proposal?


The unitary proposal was for £18.5m savings and we are on course for that. The budget gap we are now facing has happened as costs have dramatically increased and income from central government reduced. Local government is funded far less than previously – this is a national problem with multiple councils in a similar position.


·         It would be helpful if Somerset Council could communicate what the statutory services are and the level of discretionary service provided. Parishes need to know the costs of the non-statutory services provided in their areas so that they can understand what the costs might be.


Acknowledge comment made – we are working on gathering the information and will share with parishes.

Neighbouring parishes and the Somerset Association of Local Councils (SALC) may also be able to give some support.


·         Parish councillors are all working at a maximum and worry how many will retire. Some parishes can do very little to raise money as they have no assets.


We are having discussions across all LCNs about the Council’s financial position. Many comments have been made about delivery of services locally - there are other partners who can be involved to try and make some of these activities happen. There are also networks of volunteers to help and can all work together to achieve economies of scale. Need to work with other stakeholders.


·         This has all been left very late as parishes have a deadline of mid-January to submit their precept information.


Somerset Council are in the same position as won’t hear from central government about the local government finance settlement until mid-December.


·         There are a number of uncertainties of which we have no control over. Getting information to residents is essential. Will be recommending my parish increases its precept.


None of us want to be in the position we are in – we are committed to do all we can. Acknowledge the frustrations expressed that not all the information needed is currently available.


·         There are fortnightly update meetings with parish and town clerks via Teams. Could a reminder about these meetings be circulated?




The Chairman noted that discussions about the financial situation would obviously continue and reminded that people were able to email officers and members with any specific queries. He acknowledged the frustrations of the smaller parishes.



LCN team - Reminder about the fortnightly update meetings for parish and town clerks to be circulated.



Contact for the LCN team –