Key councillors to discuss budget plans

Budget proposals to protect essential services and fund care for Somerset’s ageing population will be considered by the County Council’s Cabinet next month.

The authority is considering its first Council Tax increase for six years as well as savings to help balance its budget in the face of falling Government funding and increased demand for services.

The most recent funding settlement confirmed the continued reduction of Government funding for Somerset, with a further £20m being removed for 2016/17. At the same time, the settlement gave permission for the county to raise an additional 2 per cent Council Tax to fund Adult Social Care.

That 2 per cent rise would see band D households pay an extra £20 a year towards caring for Somerset’s elderly population.

And it comes as the Council considers a 1.99 per cent increase to Council Tax for other essential services, making its share of Council Tax bills rise by 3.99 per cent in total. If agreed, the two rises would be the first increases in the Council’s share of Council Tax for six years and add around £40 a year to bills.

This year there is also a proposal for an additional 1.25 per cent increase to the County Council element of council tax, on behalf of the Somerset Rivers Authority. This would fund the flood prevention work of the SRA which has received no central Government funding for 2016/17.

The County Council’s Cabinet meets on 8 February and will decide whether to recommend the budget proposals, which also include savings of around £8m, to Full Council which meets on 17 February.

“This is a truly challenging budget,” said Councillor Harvey Siggs, Cabinet Member with responsibility for Resources. “Reductions in funding have been drastic while demand increases and factors like inflation and the introduction of the national living wage also have to be met.

“We would still have one of the lowest Council Tax levels in the country, but our element of Council Tax would go up by around £52 a year for the average household, including around £12 for the SRA. I know that’s not easy for many hard-working families, but it does mean less than £1 per week extra to protect some incredibly important services at a time of unprecedented pressure on our resources.”

The savings plans for 2016/17 going before Cabinet total £7.8m and include:

  • Approximately 90 posts to be lost from various parts of the council
  • A £200,000 reduction in costs to be achieved through changes in library services
  • A £500,000 reduction in subsidies for bus services
  • A £762,000 reduction in funding for Pathways for Adults (P4A Services)
  • £136,000 of extra savings from the Somerset waste Partnership Board

“We are prioritising services for the vulnerable,” added Leader of the Council, John Osman. “And with more than £100m taken from our budget over the last five years, very difficult decisions have to be made and will be being made by local authorities across the country.

“We will continue to lobby for fairer funding for Somerset, pushing for a funding formula that properly takes account of the challenges and costs of providing services in a rural county like ours.”

For information about the Council’s Fairer Funding for Somerset campaign and to sign the petition, visit www.somerset.gov.uk/fairerfunding