Agenda item

An update on Somerset Council's current Financial Position

Minutes:

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 (now approx. £87 million) 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.  He confirmed the Leader of the Council had recently written to all town and parish councils and that future details would be coming forward over the next weeks and months regarding how this may be taken forward and how parishes may be able to work together to provide some of these services.  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:

 

·           How will parish councils especially smaller ones or parish meetings going to provide or deliver these services and when will we get more information in order to set our budgets?

 

Acknowledged the challenges the town and parish councils face but as yet were unable to provide a further detailed list. More details would be sent out as soon as possible including what services the parishes have already taken an interest on and costing surrounding these services.  He anticipated the role of the LCN being a forum going forward to help parishes work together.

 

·           How will the Council help us assess these services and identify the costs involved?

 

Ask that parishes look at the services that are most important and contact the devolution team at devolutionteam@somerset.gov.uk to let them know what services they are interested in taking on.  It was noted some parishes already allocate a special projects fund which enables them to manage funds if things are needed quite quickly. Appreciate some things are easy to put into place and others are not.

 

·           This financial situation hasn’t happened overnight and will LCN’s carry on as they are as they are only a discretionary service?

 

Explained process of a ‘deep dive’ into the finance situation which had begun back in the summer regarding in particular the adult services and timings involved. 

 

·           As well as finances there is a need to ensure that an administrative infrastructure is in place before parishes take on these services to help everyone collectively work together?

 

Colleagues across the county services are looking to create some ‘how to’ guides for example: rights of way checklists and explained the highway steward scheme as an example.

 

·         Parishes in this LCN area vary greatly in size. There are several Parish Meetings and they have very limited powers to spend money or raise precepts?

 

Acknowledge these concerns as parish meetings are in a different position from parish councils.  However, believe there is a provision to vary this and that there may be an opportunity to work with other nearby parish councils.   Nonetheless this is a fair point and further work needs to be done on this issue.

 

·         Assume Council Tax will have to go up and the parishes precepts?

 

Yes unfortunately due to the financial situation there are some services that the Council will simply not be able to afford to provide and therefore the parish precept will need to go up to help fund and provide these going forward.

 

·         What about insurances and liability of these services – who will provide this?

 

This will be dependent on service by service. However, a list of contractors can be provided, although it is understood the provider would need to have these insurances in place to be able to provide these pieces of work.

 

·         Why has the social care bill gone up so dramatically?

 

Explained the main issue has been the process relating to the Fair Cost of Care initiative which was started and then with central government not funding the gap.  He explained the reasons why the care costs have considerably increased on a demand led service.

 

·         Had been told that the unitary proposal would make savings – this doesn’t seem to have happened?

 

Process has taken longer than had hoped and now with the financial situation the business case is no longer fit for purpose and therefore are needing to find substantially more savings going forward which will involve further streamlining of services and staff restructuring.

 

·           In the small parishes with limited manpower and with the worry that many councillors may give up their role going forwards, how are we meant to provide this work?

 

This would be led on a community by community basis with smaller parishes more likely to have to rely on volunteers in comparison to the larger towns. However, he stressed none of this would be compulsory for the parishes and they would not be expected to provide any services that they could not meet.  Further work is needed to support parishes on this going forward.

 

·           Will devolution of services be a permanent arrangement and how will these services be safeguarded if in the future parishes cannot provide them?

 

Unsure exactly as uncertain of local government funding in the future but based on recent history most areas of devolution will be on a permanent basis.  Would need to look at it on a case by case service around the continuation of services should no one by able to provide the service and unfortunately this may mean they have to stop.

 

·           What communication have you given to the public and parishes to tell them that their precepts will need to go up?

 

Quite a lot of publicity has been done around the Council’s current financial situation but noted concerns and would take this away to ensure this is fully communicated.

Acknowledged the frustrations expressed that not all information needed is currently available.  Slides showing the current financial graphics would be circulated with the notes of the meeting.

 

The Chairman noted that discussions about the financial situation would obviously continue and asked that a recent presentation regarding relative precepts be sent out to all the LCN parishes.  He also asked parish representatives to take away thoughts of what services they could work to deliver and email the LCN team (and the devolution team) using the highway steward scheme as an example.

 

ACTION:  LCN team –presentation regarding parish precepts and the financial graphics slides to be circulated.

 

Contact for the LCN team – southeastlcn@somerset.gov.uk