Consultation opens into new single Somerset Council budget. New Council targets support for key services and vulnerable residents

The proposed budget for the new unitary Somerset Council is published today.

The proposals, set to be discussed by the Council’s Executive on Wednesday 18 January, will be the first time the services and costs from all four District Councils and the County Council have been brought together. Consultation into the proposed budget runs until 10 February.

Liz Leyshon, Deputy Leader of the Council and Executive Member for Finance and Human Resources, said: “This is an incredibly challenging time for most council budgets in the country but particularly so in Somerset, where we have been bringing together five council budgets into one. However, without the saving and efficiencies a new unitary council will bring, it would have been even more difficult to set a balanced budget for the next financial year.”

The Council is proposing to increase Council Tax by just under 5 percent, less than half of the current rate of inflation. This is made up of a basic rise of 2.99 per cent in Council Tax and the 2 per cent social care levy. As a result of these proposals, the council tax proposed for a Band D property will increase by £78.24 each year, or £1.50 per week.

The total budget for new Council will be £491.37 million, a rise of £36 million over the budgets of the five councils the new Somerset Council replaces. The Council agreed a new Council Tax Reduction Scheme last November, and will be bringing forward an Exceptional Hardship Fund to support households in need of further support.

The Council has said it has faced three significant challenges is setting budgets this year: the impact of inflation on the cost of providing services; the rising demand for care services post-pandemic and the need, in a very competitive labour market, to use agency staff to cover statutory services.

Cllr Leyshon said: ”Post-Covid, the rise in demand for care services, and the rising cost of meeting that demand, has been striking. The new Somerset Council will, of course, protect the services that touch most lives in Somerset and will continue to prioritise support for our most vulnerable residents. We have rejected options to close some of our household waste recycling centres and all of our libraries will remain open with unchanged hours. That won’t be the case elsewhere in the country.

“We have also protected the grants that go to the voluntary sector and will take the opportunity of working more closely with representatives of the sector. But pressure on care services dominates all budget setting in local government this year. We are increasing funding for both Adult Social Care and Children’s Services by almost a fifth, but that doesn’t really cover the rising costs of those services and we will still need to find savings in these services.”

Several of the savings in the new proposed budget relate to the move to a single council, with £2.9million saved from senior manager costs and a £600,000 annual saving from reducing the number of council members.

Cllr Leyshon concluded: “We know that reform of social care services depends on effective forward planning by Government, enabling local councils to also plan further ahead. Until that planning comes forward from the Government in a coherent form, councils, including Somerset Council, will continue to experience huge challenges in setting balanced budgets.”

Budget papers are available here: Somerset County Council

The consultation is available here: Budget consultation 2023/24 – Somerset County Council Consultations (inconsult.uk)