Agenda item

Update on Somerset Council's Financial Position


The Chairman introduced Cllr Federica Smith-Roberts (Lead Member for Communities, Housing and Culture) who provided an update on the financial position of Somerset Council.  She noted that Somerset Council had declared a financial emergency back in November due to a £100million budget gap for the coming financial year driven by increasing costs particularly in adult services and children and family services.  Somerset Council had looked at what services it could continue to provide in the future and there were some difficult decisions to be made.  The budget proposals had been published and there was a timetable of meetings to discuss the proposed budgets and where things could be cut or reduced.  The Government had announced additional funding of £5million for Somerset but this was not enough to fill the budget gap.  The Council were looking for approval to increase Council Tax and to use capital funding.  She explained that the Council would be asking for help to deliver some non-statutory services.


During a question and answer session, Cllr Federica Smith-Roberts (Lead Member for Communities, Housing and Culture) and Kate Hellard provided some responses to points of detail. A summary of some of the points and responses are provided below:


·       Yeovil Town Council were pursuing many options of looking to run many services including Yeovil Recreation Centre which would come at a cost. Clarification was sought regarding a request made by Yeovil Town Council to Somerset Council to obtain some of the previously earmarked reserves for Yeovil Recreation Centre.


It was confirmed that the earmarked reserves from the four District Councils and Somerset County Council had been looked at by the Executive who agreed that they were not needed and therefore agreed to move those reserves to fund the overspend from the previous financial year, the overspend from the current year and to support the budget for the following year. 


Cllr Graham Oakes, Leader of Yeovil Town Council said that he would welcome support from other parish councilsto help fund Yeovil Recreation Centre as it was highlighted that it was not just residents that fall under Yeovil Town Council who use those facilities.


·       How did the Council become one when two Councils was the preferred option?  Was there a referendum?


The decision was taken by the Ex-Leader of Somerset County Council who asked the Home Secretary at the time in relation to making Somerset unitary.  Along that journey, the four District Councils felt that two unitary councils would be the better option and Somerset County Council felt that one unitary council was the better option.  Two business cases were put forward and a public consultation exercise was undertaken by the four district councils.  The results stated that the people of Somerset would prefer the two Somerset model rather than one.  The results were forwarded to the Secretary of State and it was decided that it was the One Somerset case that was going to be implemented. 


·       What is the budget for LCNs?


LCNs don’t have a budget.  There are marked reserves to pay for the venue space.  There was currently a service restructure taking place and currently LCNs were being supported by interim staffing.  A recruitment process was due to take place in the next few weeks.  The pilot LCNs were all successful in drawing down grant funding from external funding providers to help deliver projects in their area and work with a range of partners which could be an option for the Yeovil LCN.


·       Is the proposed 10% Council Tax increase on all elements or just the Somerset Council element?  Does it also include what was previously the district element as well?


The increase was the Somerset County element of the total.  The increase in the adult and children social care budget was driving the agenda but the Council must ensure that they are providing those statutory services.  There was fundamentally an underfunding problem (due to the increase in costs by providers, inflation, and the demand on the service) and other services were suffering because of it.


With regard to devolution of services, there was a comment made around Parish Councils having to set their precept without knowing the likely costs that they may have to take on. 


Kate Hellard (Service Manager LCNs) gave a presentation on a Highway Steward Scheme that was currently being trialled in Exmoor.   The Highway Steward is a skilled highway operative, in a branded vehicle, who visits parishes and towns to a defined works programme but is also empowered to undertake ad hoc works when identified.  The Highway Steward Scheme

delivers minor works within the capability of a single operative. The scope of works could include low tech, high value works such as verge maintenance, highway surface water drainage maintenance, weed removal, sign cleaning and cutting back vegetation.


Options for delivery of the Highway Steward could be through a contract with Somerset Council’s Highway Contractor from April.  The steward would be employed by the Highways Contractor therefore sick pay, risk assessments, equipment and insurance etc. would be their responsibility.  She advised the cost for a single full-time steward was approximately £50k per year – a parish doesn’t have to have a whole steward and the steward could be split between a cluster of parishes.


The presentation slides on the Highway Steward Scheme can be viewed at:

PowerPoint Presentation (


Opportunities for exploring and the benefits of a Parish Ranger Scheme was also discussed.  It was noted that the Parish Ranger Scheme currently operated in area south had been identified as a saving (£16,000).  If enough Parish Councils were interested the cost of the Scheme could be split.


There were options for Parish Meetings who were unable to precept including adjoining with neighbouring parishes.  The Governance Team at Somerset Council could provide further information.


It was requested that Town and Parish Councils express their interest in a Highway Steward Scheme or a Parish Ranger Scheme by emailing


Kate Hellard advised that Highway colleagues had offered to facilitate a Highways Working Group for each LCN which was a great opportunity to explore the Highway Steward Scheme and for local knowledge to be shared and to help inform works to be undertaken.  If you are interested in joining the Highways Working Group please email: