Somerset County Councillors today heard the scale of the future funding the challenge facing the authority.
A meeting of the Council’s Cabinet agreed budget proposals for 2016/17, and were told of the projected shortfalls over the following four years as funding from central Government continues to decline.
Between 2017/18 and 2020/21 the authority is facing an expected funding shortfall of approaching £40m. And that figure doesn’t take into the costs of inflation or the ageing population; and assumes successive Council Tax increases.
“However hard we work looking towards the future and closing the gaps, the Government settlement has made that more difficult,” said Councillor Harvey Siggs, Cabinet Member for Resources.
“The challenge we have is the sort of challenge that nobody wants. Our proposals for next year focus on prioritising the essentials and include a number of savings that we prefer not to have taken.
“Then only decisions left are difficult one and it’s important that we have also been able to set out major capital investment in key areas.”
Cabinet agreed to recommend the budget proposals to Full Council for approval when it meets on 17 February.
The proposals set out around £8m of savings for the coming year and capital investment of £75m in roads, schools and economic development.
They also include increases in Council Tax – 2 per cent ring-fenced for Adult Social Care and 1.99 per cent for other essential services. A further 1.25 per cent is also proposed on behalf of the Somerset Rivers Authority to help fund its vital flood protection work.
The plans no longer include a reduction in the discretionary subsidy for free bus pass holders using community transport. In light of consultation feedback, a proposed savings of £80,000 has been scrapped.
Ambitious devolution plans for the region were also agreed by Cabinet and recommended to Full Council for approval. The bid has been agreed by 23 local partners including the County Council and all five district councils in Somerset and the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership.
“Somerset has been at the heart of this bid,” said Leader of the Council, John Osman. “The bid has focussed on productivity, the skills agenda, housing and health and we have set ambitious but realistic targets.”
You can find a copy of the Cabinet papers, including details of proposals for savings, capital investment and Council Tax here http://www1.somerset.gov.uk/council/meetings/reports.asp?item=1301