Agenda item

Update on Somerset Council Financial Situation


This item was presented by Cllr Liz Leyshon (Lead Member for Resources and Performance), on behalf of the Leader of Somerset Council, Cllr Bill Revans.


·       Cllr Leyshon explained the background information as to how the current financial circumstances had impacted on Somerset Council. She then discussed details of last year’s budget and how that has fed on into this financial year, describing what has been a ‘catch up year’ to make up for the impact of inflation on services/funding.

·       With the positive that the minimum living wage had risen, Somerset Council had then been hit over the course in the last few year, by soaring costs of Adult Social Care across the county as a result of the abandoned Fair Cost of Care exercise. 

·       The Councillor then discussed the implementations put in place since the declaration of Somerset Council’s financial emergency, particularly focusing on the creation of the 3 ‘Spending Boards’, that have the final say on all spending going out of the authority above a certain limit. Then raising that the threats would come from attempting to set the program of reserves for next year, and that would push us closer to the option of having to declare a Section 114.

·       The further impacts on the Council were then discussed with it likely to be slimmed down, with fewer officers and offices to conduct its business.

·       Cllr Leyshon then discussed the recent letter sent out by the Leader of the Council, reassuring Parishes that they were not be forced to take on assets that they could not support, but meanwhile stressing the importance of working together to find a solution to allow for the delivery of essential services.


A discussion followed about the issues raised:


·       Whether a crucial area such as Highways would be devolved or stay with Somerset Council, to which the Lead Member confirmed that due to its importance it would stay as a responsibility of the Unitary Authority.

·       This prompted a discussion of the creation and trial of ‘Highways Steward’ posts, that would operate in and around several Parishes, identifying and fixing any issues, and carrying out general maintenance on Highways across their attributed area.

·       The job description for this role will be available as soon as possible so that they can gauge interest from Parishes

·       How good was the response to the Leader of Council’s letter had been from the Parish Councils? The response was mixed, many big town councils are keen on taking on different services/facilities, but a few smaller Parish have raised concerns about their capabilities and whether they were being pressed to take on than they could handle.

·       Officers/Councillors then debated the idea of Parishes putting some of their Parish Precept income into a ‘Village Improvement Fund’.

·       A further discussion was held on the question of who held the responsibility for the staff providing services Parishes may take on. The response was that it was dependent on how the services were provided under the pre-Unitary authority, as there are several different ways they are handled around the county.

·       The next question, focused on Buses, inquiring whether the financial situation would have an impact on Rural Services? The answer given stated that the future of the at the present time was unclear, but it must be acknowledged that once current funding runs out that it will be a challenge to maintain frequency of some services.