Council plea ahead of spending review

Somerset County Council’s Leader is urging on Westminster to recognise the dire finances of local authorities in this month’s Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR).

Cllr Osman is writing to the Chancellor and the Prime Minister spelling out the stark impact of continual funding cuts on the Council’s ability to look after its most vulnerable residents.

He is also writing to Somerset’s MPs calling on them to speak up on the County’s behalf ahead of the CSR on 25 November. The review will set out the expenditure limits of Government departments, including the Department for Communities and Local Government which is expected to be asked to make savings in the region of 30 per cent.

The Leader’s lobbying comes as the Council introduces a freeze on all non-essential spending to protect services for the most vulnerable.

“We have come to the point where we need to tell the government in, no uncertain terms, what the impacts of continued austerity are,” said Cllr Osman. “Our ability to provide anything but the minimum level of support for some of the most vulnerable people in our communities is now being threatened.

“Neither the public nor MPs would accept a 30 per cent reduction in NHS funding. There would be uproar. Yet that is the kind of reduction local authorities – with responsibility for protecting vulnerable children and adults – are being forced to cope with.”

The County Council, like many across the country, is facing a massive challenge to balance its budget for 2016/17 and beyond. Its direct funding from Government – the Revenue Support Grant – is expected to have fallen from around £63m in 2014/15 to zero by 2019/20 at the latest. At the same time, for 2016/17 alone, inflation will add around £3.5m to costs and demographic pressures – a growing and ageing population – a further £5m.

On top of this, the introduction of the National Living Wage in 2016 will be an additional pressure, being an extra burden for the care providers contracted by the Council to look after vulnerable adults.

“I know that many local authorities are in a similar position,” said Cllr Osman. “We have to balance our books but we are simply not being funded to meet the growing costs of looking after our vulnerable residents.

“I ask the Chancellor to stop and think what can be done to ease the situation for local authorities and call on Somerset’s MPs to join me in making this plea. He could slow down the planned reduction in Revenue Support Grants and accelerate his plans to allow local authorities to retain all of the business rates in their local area, anything that makes the balanced budgets a realistic possibility.”