Proposals to bridge budget gap

Proposals to bridge around £8m of Somerset County Council’s projected budget gap for next financial year will be discussed this month.

The Authority’s Scrutiny meetings and Cabinet will consider the plans as part of the budget-setting process that culminates at full council next month.

For 2019/20, decisions and actions already taken address around £7m of a projected £15m gap. These include decisions around the redesign of the library service (£323k), ending of the authority’s involvement in community leisure (£500k) and removal of a Director’s post (£117k); along with use of financial flexibilities (£3m).

Proposals totalling roughly £8m will be discussed by the authority’s scrutiny committees before going to Full Council for decision on 20 February. Of this around £2m or so is expected to have some impact on frontline services.

The meetings will also hear that the Authority is projecting an underspend of nearly £1m this financial year – a result of the strict controls on spending, delivery of nearly all savings, one-off funding from Government and use of new financial flexibilities.

Leader of the Council, Councillor David Fothergill, said: “We’ve come a long way towards financial sustainability, but only as a result of many tough decisions, rigorous control and some one-off actions and funding.

“We’ve been able to step back from some very difficult areas and protect valued services such as bus subsidies and are on target to deliver an underspend this year. This should allow us to top-up our reserves – which are hugely important for our future sustainability – and will release future funding for vital services.

“It’s taken a huge amount of work and there are more difficult decisions to be discussed in the coming weeks, but we have done everything we can to keep the impact on the frontline to a minimum.”

Around £6m of the £8m of proposals being discussed this month are not expected to affect frontline services, with savings being achieved through back office and contract efficiencies, income generation, ending leases on underused buildings. These include proposals to:

  • Reorganise and reduce business support for social work services (£570k)
  • Reduce costs for IT contracts (£847k) and further efficiencies in other contracts (£168k)
  • End leases on underused buildings (£175k)
  • Sale of vehicles (£78k)
  • Hold children’s staffing positions vacant where recruitment has not been possible (£775k)

The remaining £2m or so would have some impact on the frontline services, either reducing them or making changes that in many cases the Authority believes will cost less but give better outcomes. These proposals include:

  • Reviewing care and support and ‘Promoting Independence’ (£1.1m)
  • Withdrawing support from eight Extra Care Housing schemes (£600k)
  • Reducing verge cutting (£90k)
  • Reducing urban gully cleaning (£80k)
  • Reduced flood risk management studies and flood schemes (£80k)

It is anticipated that the proposals, if agreed, would mean the loss of between 50-100 posts – wherever possible achieved by deleting vacancies and redeployment to avoid compulsory redundancy.

Cllr Fothergill said: “Since 2010, the we have made efficiencies and savings of around £143m and to be providing the services we do, helping support more people than ever before, is a real achievement.

“Partnership working, the voluntary sector and, increasingly, our fantastic communities have played a key part in that and will continue to do so.

“The progress we’ve made must not hide the severe underfunding that all local government is dealing with. We cannot plan ahead and be truly sustainable when we are reliant on one-off, ad hoc funding from government to balance our budget.”