Cabinet backs savings rethink thanks to extra funding

Extra funding could be made available to allow a full review of Somerset County Council’s winter gritting service if recommendations from today’s Cabinet meeting are supported by Full Council next week.

Thanks to better than expected finalised funding for 2019/20, Cabinet supported plans to provide up to £200,000 which will see the reversal of the £120,000 savings approved in September last year and provide funding to undertake a full review of our winter gritting in readiness for next winter.

Planned reductions in gulley clearing and jetting (£120,000) would also be dropped for 2019/20; while the following savings would delayed for a year:

  • Flood water management (£80,000)
  • Dementia support in care homes (£100,000)
  • Support to help vulnerable young people in to work (£50,000)

Leader of the Council, Councillor David Fothergill, said: “While it has come late in the day, this positive news means we can revisit some of the savings Cabinet was reluctant to take but had to in financially tough times.

“They were the right decisions to make or consider at the time, but we are pleased to be in a position to listen to the public and look again at some of them. In some cases we believe we can provide better outcomes at less cost, but delaying the savings allows us more time to develop the alternatives.

“The reinstatement of routes is not possible for this winter because we cannot ramp up operations again in such a short period of time. But we are committed to reviewing routes putting up to £200,000 into gritting next year.”

Extra funding for the 2019/20 budget has been identified following the very late financial settlement from Government, finalised Council Tax collection rates from district councils, and significantly updated estimates of how much Somerset will benefit from being part of the one-year Business Rates Retention pilot.

In total, the authority has £3.5m more than expected for 2019/20, of which around £3m is ‘one-off’ with £500,000 going into its base budget.

The recommendations agreed by Cabinet this morning would see the one-off money used to generate long-term benefits: £500,000 for preventative work to reduce long-term costs, £1.3m to effectively pay-off debts which frees up money for future spending on services and  improving reserves which are too low, and £1m used to ease pressure on capital assets so that fewer need to be sold to finance transformation work.

Cllr Fothergill said: “We still have a budget gap of £15m for next financial year and, welcome though it is, we have only gained an extra £500,000 into our ongoing base budget. Difficult decisions have had to be taken and more will need to be taken to bridge that gap, but we have done everything we can to keep the impact on residents at a minimum.

“In September we were heading for a significant overspend and took urgent action. Since then we have gripped our finances even more strongly with  more than 96 per cent of our proposals delivered or on track for delivery. That is amazing work from our staff.

“That amazing work from our staff means we are now looking at a small underspend. This is hugely significant and helps us into next year and future years”.

Reports for today’s Cabinet meeting can be found on the Council’s website: http://democracy.somerset.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=134&MId=732&Ver=4