Agenda item

Somerset Council Financial Update

An update to provided on the latest financial position of Somerset Council.


This item was brought forward as the Police Crime Commissioner had been delayed.


Unfortunately the Lead Member for Resources and Transformation, Cllr Theo Butt Philip had tendered his apologies. In his absence, Cllr Pugsley provided a summary of concerns which were that the LCN members are worried about the impact of the financial challenges faced by Somerset Council on their local services and communities. They want to know what services will be withdrawn and how much they will cost to provide locally.


They were aware that the proposed cuts would affect highways, winter maintenance (including filling of grit bins), street cleaning, recycling centres, libraries and CCTV provision. If the parishes within the LCN decided to take on some of these services they wanted to have a fair formula for sharing the costs, which would be a reflection on their respective populations and geography.


It was considered frustrating that there was no financial information forthcoming from Somerset Council, which would assist the parishes in setting their precepts. Some of the parishes had decided not to wait any longer (Dulverton TC) and had already decided their precept that week. Others were making provision to increase their precept to cover service devolution if it was required.


Jon Levenson (Cutcombe PC) expressed bitter disappointment that the financial figures were not available to assist the parishes with the setting of the precept and stated that it was a sign of Somerset Council’s financial collapse and poor fiscal management. It was no wonder that the Council found itself in such a financial crisis.


Comment was made that some of the services such as public conveniences, maintenance of play areas and grass cutting had already been devolved to the Exmoor parishes by the former West Somerset Council. There weren’t many other services left to cut. Concern was also expressed about the lack of skills, time and resource at parish level which would be required to run some of the services. Parish Councillors were volunteers and it was difficult enough to recruit to the roles, without the additional responsibility of managing staff!


Other areas of concern that were expressed:-


  • The possible closure of the Dulverton recycling centre which would result in increased fly-tipping.
  • The cost of the democratic process in Somerset Council and maintaining and paying for 110 councillors.
  • The loss of the library, bus service and street cleaner in Porlock if the costs were too prohibitive to take on by the parish.
  • The Somerset Council proposed council tax increase of 9.9% during a cost-of-living crisis.
  • the lack of financial clarity due to “commercial sensitivity” and a perceived unwillingness to share information.
  • Asset devolution – the burden of paying the legal fees would fall on the parish council.


Attendees were reminded that the budget consultation had been launched and would close on 22 January. The survey and further information on how to participate can be found on this link.


Cllr Pugsley highlighted that collectively as an LCN, most of the parishes were concerned with highways issues around:-


  • the filling of grit bins/ supply of salt bags;
  • clearing of drains/gullies; and
  • verge maintenance (grass cutting etc).


He suggested that cuts in these services would most affect the Exmoor parishes, and it was important that the Exmoor LCN tried at least to mitigate this.


It was yet to be decided whether the Exmoor LCN wished to proceed with the revised Highway Steward model, and discussions were due to take place about possibly sharing the service with a neighbouring LCN area.


Cllr Pugsley agreed to take away these suggestions and follow up with the devolution team on the best way forward.


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