Financial Crisis at County Council
Following on from our articles in the 15th August edition of the Leveller, the full depth of the financial crisis facing Somerset County Council is now becoming apparent. On Friday an email from the leader of the council made the degree of difficulty clear enough. This morning we received a response from Leigh Redman, leader of the Labour Group on the council. Obviously they write from different political perspectives, however we thought our readers might like to see the two together and I think, they, in very different ways, should help you form a view on the financial situation:
24th August. “This last week has felt like the story of the Swan quietly swimming down river whilst its feet are going ‘ten to the dozen’ out of sight!
Externally County Hall has that annual August feel, but internally I’m sure most of you will be aware of the intense work that’s been going on to look at the Financial Imperative which is so vitally important.
It is only in the last day or two that information has begun to reach the press and social media about this work and the impact it may have on specific service areas. In fact, a significant list of cost savings will be put into the public domain in the week ahead of Scrutiny on the 11th September and Cabinet the following day.
The years of austerity forced on local Government by Westminster are now taking their toll and none of these decisions will be easy to make; the ‘low hanging fruits’ were picked years ago. After £130 million of savings, we have to refocus the County Council on its core offer and statutory duties.
Somerset is not alone in facing these challenges, but we cannot rely on any bailout and so we must take action. That is what our LGA peer review told us, that is what our External Auditors told us, and that is what deep down, we know ourselves.
Personally I did not come into local politics to take the decisions we are now facing, but I keep reminding myself that the prize will be to lay the foundations for the long-term delivery of sustainable public services. That is what we should keep focussing on and explaining to the public against a backdrop of austerity measures.
Ultimately I strongly believe that we need to move to a Unitary model of local government across Somerset and these discussions are ongoing, but first we must put our house in order.
The next few weeks will see that Swan lift from the river, gather pace as it frantically flaps its wings and then finally soar, but to do so will take an incredible amount of effort.
I thank you for your understanding, your support and your hard work.
David (Fothergill, Leader of the Council)
27th August Somerset financial position comment.
“What a way for our staff to start a bank holiday weekend! Following a week of rumours and gossip around the financial position the council finds itself in. As officers (members of staff) started to leave work for the bank holiday weekend they all (those with access to email) received an email outlining a summary of areas where savings proposals are being developed for consideration by Cabinet next month (12th September). The first thing that hit me when I read the list (copied below), was whatever the justification, how wrong these further cuts are, and how the list appeared to impact hardest, those most vulnerable amongst us, the ones that need our help most. The outcomes from these short lines are not very clear, it is purely an indicative list that needs to be explained fully before the meeting, where the Tory cabinet will take the decisions.
What all this does is miss the point, surely there are two things we need to consider:-
- Why are we in this position?
- How do we get out of this hole?
To try and explain my first point, I feel that we need to take a step back and ask ‘why are we here?’, the blame has to sit somewhere, and in my opinion still being a new councillor, the previous two Tory led administrations started the fall, massive cuts in services, started back around 2010 led by the then leader Ken Maddock started the decline, the next administrations choice to freeze council tax for 7 years, along with the government austerity agenda increased the pain, Children services inadequate OFSTED rating (a consequence of the first round of cuts) & Adults services demand growth all added to the problem. Each element has had its own impact, the 3 councils on the edge of the financial precipice are all Tory led (Northamptonshire, East Sussex and Somerset), they all were some of the first to start the austerity cuts to local services, all being compounded by cuts to government grant, so we have Tory councils under a Tory government that came out of a coalition government.
There is no quick fix, we need to realise that this position will require a big fix, that can be applied nationally as the 3 councils mentioned above are just the start, we need to find the appropriate level of services in each council, establish what that will cost, then figure out how we are going to pay for it. This is a base level of services that protect those most vulnerable and in need, at the same time maintain a reasonable level of service on the roads and in county hall. I wish I could have the solution but that is outside of my influence, I am a local councillor working hard to get the best for my community, this is a national problem!
We are a long way from getting this sorted, it has been said by the leader of Somerset County Council “we must find more in year savings”, how the axe may fall will become clearer over the next few weeks. You will have seen that in order to try and balance its currently severely-constrained budget, Somerset County Council is looking to make another £14m of cuts within the year 2018/19 on top of the £14m already announced. Further cuts are wrong! I will do everything I can to fight for those most in need in our communities, but we need a national solution not just another sticking plaster.
Over the next few weeks please feel for the staff, the majority of whom are only doing as they are told whilst trying to maintain a service that is already over stretched and under resourced. Here is the summary of areas where savings proposals are being developed for consideration by Cabinet next month:-
2018/2019 Revenue Budget Monitoring – 24 August 2018
- Proposals for the alteration of arrangements for specialist housing and support for adults with social care needs.
- Proposals for reduction in the support given to the Citizens Advice Bureaux for the administration of a benefit for individuals.
- Proposals for the alteration and/or reduction of early help services provided to children and their families.
- Proposals for the alteration and/or reduction of services to support vulnerable pupils.
- Proposals for alteration and/or reduction of support arrangements for the democratic process and for elected members.
- Proposals for the alteration of members allowances for recommendation to Council.
- Proposals to alter the arrangements for, provision of, and funding solutions for the maintenance of highways, rights of way and associated infrastructure.
- Proposals for altering the financial support and arrangements for public transport and for special educational needs (SEN) transport.
- Proposals to alter the funding arrangements and service level for road safety.
10.Proposals to alter the provision of park and ride services in the Taunton area.
11.Proposals for altering staffing structures and levels in teams within Adult Services, Children and Family Services, Corporate Services and ECI Services.
12.Proposals to alter the provision of corporate support services and / or reduce corporate and directorate overheads.
13.Proposals to secure additional funding and / or recover costs within Children and Family Services, ICT and ECI Services.
14.Proposals for the alteration of customer access arrangements.
Councillor Leigh Redman