Leader hails ‘remarkable’ financial turnaround

The Leader of Somerset County Council has hailed a ‘remarkable’ financial turnaround as a strategy for the next three years is published.

It comes as an independent report into Local Authority performance placed Somerset in the top 10 for most improved councils.

Leader of the Council, Cllr David Fothergill, was positive in his assessment of Somerset’s financial future ahead of Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting which will discuss the County Council’s three-year financial strategy.

He said: “We no longer have a financial crisis and are on our way to the financial stability all local authorities are striving for. To be looking to the next financial year without the shadow of additional savings is truly remarkable.”

The three-year strategy highlights factors underpinning the turnaround, including tough decisions in the past, a tight grip on spending and additional Government funding.

Together these mean the authority is forecasting that a balanced budget can be set next year without the need for any additional savings or reductions to frontline services.

The strategy also includes increasing reserves and an intention to invest in improving key adults and children’s services.

Cllr Fothergill, said: “The pressure on local authority finances have been huge in recent years and, like many councils, we have been through some very tough times. This turnaround reflects the hard work of our staff, partners and communities – it is really humbling to be in this position and testament to how far we have come.

“But we must be cautious, too much of this authority’s funding is uncertain and we need to strengthen reserves and make measured investment to improve lives.”

Last month Somerset made it into the top ten most improved local authorities in the annual Impower ‘Which councils are best?’ report. In September the Council’s auditor recognised its strengthened finances by giving it an improved Value For Money rating and commenting on its progress and ‘positive trajectory’.

Cllr Fothergill said: “We are doing great work to improve lives but could do so much more if Somerset received the right level and certainty of funding to deliver services now and plan and invest for the long-term. Our lobbying on that front will be robust and relentless.”

Based on current funding and costs, the strategy predicts a balanced budget for 2020/21. Over 2021/22 and 2022/23 a relatively modest gap of £9.5m is forecast, though this will be influenced greatly by the Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review due in 2020 and a decision on whether the additional funding for social care announced in the autumn – which adds up to £10.4m for Somerset – becomes permanent.

At present, at least £60m the Council’s 2020/21 funding can be classified uncertain and the three-year strategy commits the council to continuing to lobby for fairer and more permanent finding.