Somerset County Council today signalled a new approach to help combat climate change, a major investment in 20mph zones outside schools and innovation in social care as it approved its key budget for next year.
In the Leader’s speech, Cllr David Fothergill set out ambitious plans that would see over £1m made available next year for parish and town councillors to use to help combat climate change – with a commitment to find more in the following years.
This was shortly followed by the Leader’s announcement that £1.5m will be spent installing 20mph advisory zones outside around half of all Somerset’s schools with community discussion and involvement,
The ambitious budget also included £133.5m to fund infrastructure projects, including new schools and school expansions, as wells as highways and engineering.
“This is hugely exciting and ambitious and we are taking a lead in key areas like climate change and the safety of our school children,” said Council Leader David Fothergill. “We want to get decisions made at community, parish and town level where we can, and this is a bold statement of intent.”
Councillors approved a £338m budget for its services with robust financial plans in place across the next three years. No cuts to frontline services are planned and the Council has improved its financial resilience by increasing its levels of reserves.
The budget plans will see more than £775 million spent on services in the coming year and a 1.99 per cent increase in the County Council’s element of the Council Tax. The government allows a further 2 per cent increase for councils to provide Adult Social Care. The two elements together mean a total increase of 3.99 per cent – a rise of 95p per week for a Band D property.
Other authorities will look at their own elements of the Council Tax which will have an impact on total household bills. Avon and Somerset Police have announced a £10 per year increase per average Band D property. District and Parish Councils are due to make their decisions shortly.
Councillors approved a balanced budget which takes on board the challenge of rising Adult Social Care demand and costs and which included a significant £6.3m investment in our social care providers. This will help fund requirements for the increased national minimum wage for care staff, as well as ensuring high quality provision and that providers continue to be able to meet a wide range of different needs
The budget plans include an undertaking to maintain the authority’s General Fund reserves, vital to financial stability, at the projected end-of-year figure of £19.69m across 21/22 and 22/23. This is a sensible level for an authority the size of the County Council.
Cllr Fothergill said: “We have come a very long way from where we were less than 18 months ago.
“Over the last year I set out key objectives of ensuring this authority was on a firm financial footing with robust reserves and a plan in place to keep this momentum going over the coming years.
“This plan, thanks the hard work of so many, will not only keep us firmly on that path but it sees out so much more, with a bold vision of investment in infrastructure and services.”
Financial planning for all councils remains a challenge beyond 2020/21 due to funding uncertainties, and a modest budget shortfall of £9.4m over 2021/22 and 22/23 is currently projected. But this will be greatly influenced by the Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review due this year.
Submitted by Communications