Agenda item

Somerset Council Financial Update


Somerset Council had declared a financial emergency.  The Chair explained what a Section 114 Notice would mean for the Somerset Council. 


Somerset Councillor Theo Butt-Philips, Executive Lead for Transformation and Human Resources, was invited to speak.  He explained the Council’s increasing costs.  There was currently a financial gap in nextyear’s budget, in the region of, £87million.  The Council was looking at how to change services in order to balance the accounts.  Changes included the disposal of assets, the cutting of some services and the devolution of others.


He confirmed the Somerset Council would not force any Town or Parish Council to take on services. 


During the discussion that followed these points were raised:


·       Some Parish Councillors were disinclined to offer help at this stage because the services had not been costed yet.  The Network noted Somerset Council had begun costing the services that had attracted the most interest from parishes.

·       There was concern that residents could end up paying twice if the parishes began providing services which had previously been costed into the Somerset Council services.

·       The Network noted the finance gap was not expected to be as high in future years.

·       Taking on services would be permanent, but the financial crisis would only be temporary (over a few years). 

·       It was noted that it was possible for the Council to avoid a Section 114 Notice, but it would be incredibly hard to achieve.  Confirmation of the situation would be known at the budget setting stage in February 2024. 

·       Parish Councils would be wise to set aside some contingency funds.

·       It was noted that larger Parish Councils were in a better position to take services.

·       Smaller parishes may have useful contacts.  For instance, they may have local sports clubs who could be paid to carry out some maintenance.

·       Some parishes may not need to take on any services themselves because the community could rally around (like mowing the grass etc).  

·       Some Parishes were proud of their low precepts.  And the value for money they had been able to offer in the past.  There was concern that large increases in the precept were already necessary just to cover existing costs.

·       Some parishes may wish to get together with neighbouring parishes to create 'clusters' to deliver some services.

·       Somerset should ask for fines for early re-payment of PWLB loans to be delayed or not imposed.

·       Parish Councils should be given more guidance on what services might be particularly under threat.  In the Vale of Frome there was perhaps less to cut than other parts of Somerset.  Members required more detail.

·       Members queried how much the Somerset Council currently spent in the Vale of Frome on services.  The concern was parishes could spend a lot of energy devolving services from the Somerset Council to save a small amount of money.  Members felt they needed more data before any decisions could be made.

The Chair asked the Network to complete a Poll which had been based on a letter which the Leader of Somerset Council had sent to parishes.  Some Members were not able to complete the poll.  The LCN team agreed to send the poll separately afterwards.


On the whole parishes were interested in having greater control over some assets within their parish.  As well as projects which contributed to community wellbeing.