Agenda item

Update on Somerset Council's current financial position - Q&A


Somerset Councillor Liz Leyshon gave an update on Somerset Council’s current financial position. She mentioned the following:


        The main cause has been the increased cost of Adult Social Care.

        If a Section 114 was to be issued (effectively declaring the Council bankrupt) a Government commissioner would cut all non-statutory services.

        Covid caused many people to become prematurely frail which has caused a large increase in the use of domiciliary care. The weekly care costs have increased exponentially.

        Somerset Council has to set a balanced budget and will use reserves to help with this. They can only be used once, after which more savings will need to be made. Looking at non-statutory services and an increase in Council Tax to the maximum permitted.

        The Capitalization program will assist and many savings to be made in the back office.

        The selling of commercial investments will take a number of years.

        Other savings will include ceasing the CCTV service, closing Council owned toilets, closing visitor centres, horticultural nurseries, 5 waste disposal sites and cuts to highway maintenance.

        There is currently a public consultation underway on the proposed budget.

        Regeneration monies from levelling up are ring-fenced and will be delivered, but the Council cannot afford any overspend so the projects are being re-scoped.


Questions were invited from attendees. These included:


Q        Property investments were made as there were likely to be a bigger return. What is the point in selling them now?

A        When the investments were purchased in commercial property, the basic revenue support grant from government reduced greatly.  There was much business experience within the councils. Since Covid and the changes in the high street, some investments are better than others, some more speculative than others. The sales are not being done in a hurry and as there are a number of types of disposals – commercial investments, specialists, own offices, disposal of assets and asset devolution – where assets are to be devolved to town and parish councils.


Q        Why has there been a rush to devolve services to the Parish Councils? What about the issued of double funding? If a Town or Parish Council take over a service, tax payers will be paying for these services twice – via Council Tax to the Somerset Council and also to the Parish Council.

A        This hasn’t been rushed. When at Mendip District Council, we looked at a lot of asset devolution and it was very complicated. The more I look at a Council asset there seems to be a good reason for them remaining with the Council, as they are unable to be used in a way that benefits or raises money for a parish. Tax payers would not really be paying double for certain services.


Q        The redundancy programme doesn’t seem to be moving forward?

A        Tiers 1-3 were looked at last year and we lost 29 post equating to over 430 years of local government experience. We are now working on Tier 4 and there will be a programme from 1st April 2024 for more.


Q        Why are there still so many vacancies within the Council with so many redundancies still needed?

A        It will be the post that will be made redundant, not the person.


Q        Regarding the devolved services, many Parish Councils would not be able to afford to take these on or know how to set their precepts to cover the service provision?

A        We need to work with the Town councils to ensure they are precepting enough. Not so worried about the village parishes as it is unlikely that they will be taking on many of the services.


Q        Where will the money come from for 2025/26 budget?

A        The Council will have to be a lot smaller.