Sustainability a top priority as County Council agrees budget plans

Somerset County Council today approved a budget and financial plan that paves the way for medium-term financial sustainability.

The plans see £780m spent on services in the county next year and a 2.99 percent increase in the County Council’s element of Council Tax. Along with a government approved additional one per cent increase ring-fenced for Adult Social Care, this means a 91p per week rise in Council Tax for Band D properties generating £9.4m for services to improve lives.

Other Authorities will look at their own elements of council tax which will have an impact on total household bills. Avon and Somerset Police has recently announced it will raise its share of Council Tax by 12.4% with other councils such as district, town and parish due to make their own decisions shortly.

Faced with a budget gap of £28m over the next three years, the financial plans agreed this morning make future sustainability a priority in addition to supporting vital services.

At the same time, the Authority’s General Fund reserves – in effect its savings – will more than double to £19m by the end of the next financial year – a significant increase on the same time last year. This is important as it is a key measure commonly used to judge whether a local authority is financially secure.

Councillors agreed to take forward an investment strategy that could see up to £100m of capital cash – money that can’t be spent on day-to-day running costs – invested to generate income to fund services. And they backed the setting aside of £1m to develop preventative work that will reduce demand on services.

“This is a budget that looks after the here and now but also looks to the future,” said Councillor David Fothergill, Leader of the Council. “Despite the huge financial pressures we continue to face, we have managed to set a balanced budget for the coming year and agree steps that will prepare us for the years that follow.

“There have been some very tough decisions along the way, but we are in a much stronger position than we were earlier in the year which has allowed us to go back and reconsider some of the toughest of those decisions.

“The way that local authorities are funded remains fundamentally broken and we will continue our lobbying for a fix – too much of this budget’s solutions has relied on one-off, unpredictable central government funding.

“But thanks to a lot of hard work we have seen great performance in key areas and can look to the future with more confidence, ambition and a renewed focus on prevention.”

Savings proposals totalling £8m – of which around £2m might have an impact on front line services – were agreed at the meeting. Councillors also accepted recommendations that will see up to an extra £200,000 made available for winter maintenance in 2019/20.

Councillors agreed to drop savings in gulley clearing and jetting dropped, and delay for a year proposals to make savings in flood water management (£80,000), Dementia support (£100,000) and support to help vulnerable young people in to work (£50,000).

Another £7m of savings for 2019/20 are being achieved by actions already taken, including financial adjustments, use of one-off money from central government; and previous decisions such as the redesign of libraries services and ending our community leisure contract.

The Council’s total net budget for 2019/20 is £328m and it will be investing £224m in capital projects in the County over the next four years.

All the reports and papers for the Full Council meeting can be found on the Council’s website ttp://democracy.somerset.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=137&MId=763&Ver=4

 

 

Submitted by Communications