Somerset County Council is on track to deliver £7m of back office savings with more to come as it works to balance its budget, councillors heard today. (19 July).
Leader of the Council, Councillor David Fothergill, updated Full Council this morning on progress towards finding the £18m of savings required this financial year.
This follows massive reductions in funding from central Government and rising demand for key services. The main central Government grant to the County Council for this financial year is down by around £16m and due to fall by a further £10m next year.
Measures including better use of technology, better procurement, redesign of services, contract renegotiations and lower running costs through sharing services are expected to save £7m this year – with more to come in future years. This includes £1.5m saved from the return of services from Southwest One.
Beyond back office, savings are being planned or delivered in a range of areas, including:
- Reduced spend on agency and temporary staff (£320,000)
- Having to pay less for less concessionary bus journeys (£1.6m)
- Efficiencies in the new highways maintenance contract (£400,000)
- Reduced spend on small scale flood mitigation schemes (£140,000)
- Providing more mental health accommodation in mainstream accommodation (£500,000)
- Withdrawal of Saturday Park and Ride services in Taunton (£50,000)
- Reducing costs of children’s placements (£1m)
As well as this, Learning Disability placements and support packages are being reviewed to make sure they are focused on helping people to be independent in their own homes and communities wherever possible. All eligible needs will be met, and some are likely to be met in different ways at less cost. This work aims to provide better outcomes while spending less. It will also look to make sure that the Council is paying the same as regional counterparts for placements and support. Together it is anticipated that this review will save around £4.5m.
“We are making progress in what are very difficult times for local authorities across the country”, said Cllr Fothergill after the meeting. “In many cases these savings are coming from further efficiencies, better contracting and doing things differently.
“In other cases it’s about giving the right kind of support and focusing more than ever on what the outcomes are for the people who receive our services. By looking at the support we provide and doing things differently, you can do the right thing and spend less money in many instances”.
Around 120 posts have gone from the Council as a result of the savings so far, many of them through voluntary redundancy and closing vacant posts. The authority is making more use of apprentices where possible and currently has around 50 in place with plan for a further 40 to join this year.
At the Full Council meeting, Cllr Fothergill also highlighted forthcoming consultations as the Council looks to redesign library services and its early help for families.
The Library Service is developing a three-year plan to manage budget reductions in a way that minimises impact on services. Proposals will consider the current usage of the network and explore what roles communities could take in running libraries. Consultation is expected to take place in the autumn.
The Council’s early help support to families is currently delivered through the getset service. Proposals, which the Council expects to start consulting on within the next couple of months, will seek to create Family Hubs. These will integrate health services with other early help and provide more targeted support to families who need it most through outreach and in community venues, rather than some of the existing buildings.
Cllr Fothergill said: “We cannot continue running many of our services as we do now. We cannot afford it. We have lost more than £100m in revenue over the past few years. We have to change. We have to adapt. We have to live within our means”.