Somerset to set balanced budget?
The cabinet of Somerset County Council met today to finalise a budget for 2020/21. The budget proposals will be put to full council on 19th February for approval and adoption.
The highlights of the proposals will spending of £775m on services. In addition there will be a capital investment programme of £319m to include school building – across 2020 to 2023 – with £133m planned for the next financial year.
Eyebrows will be raised with talk of taking “on board the challenge of rising Adult Social Care demand and costs – achieved without additional service cuts, but instead through efficiencies and service transformation.”
After a report into the financial mismanagement of the merger between Taunton Deane and West Somerset councils, “transformation” has become a bit of a dirty word.
Another area that deserves close attention is the reserves position. the budgeted outcome will see reserves “well within what is considered an appropriate level for an authority the size of Somerset“. We have also been given an update that the authority’s General Fund reserves are expected to be £19.69m by the end of the current financial year.
It may be within accepted norms, but it will be interesting to see how it compares with other authorities. As SCC’s auditors pointed out in their 2019 year end report, our county had the second lowest level of reserves of all the county councils in the country.
So what is the cost of all this for the taxpayer? The era of Conservative administration tax freezes has gone. David Fothergill’s administration will ask for an increase of 1.99% for SCC’s element of the Council Tax, along with a further 2% which will be ring-fence for Adult Social Care.
That equates to Just under £50 more per annum for a band D house.
I commend Mendip District Council for banning the discredited T word ie Transform and Transformation.
Anything involving “Transformation” usually involves a “high level” Business Case where savings are optimistically over-predicted and risks massively underestimated.
Transformation is a much overused word to describe magical events that will deliver more or the same council services for less cash. It is usually involves a sprinkling of magic IT, electronic self-service and “slick” re-engineered processes.
We have had over 10 years of austerity so how will SCC get greater efficiencies and savings now? Or are SCC saying that over the past 10+ years they have left costs and inefficiencies unaddressed?
Prepare for more care rationing by raising thresholds for meeting “substantial needs”.
Also, for self-funders subsidising the care home fees for those in the care of SCC, to be made to pay an even higher premium in what is a stealth tax (already said to be plus 40% over what SCC pays).
Will more care homes close across Somerset?
SCC froze Council Tax for 6 years (the longest of any County Council where a 3 year freeze would have been prudent) which eventually damaged the base budget and reserves through compound inflation.
Now we are all paying extra Council Tax to make up for those too lengthy and damaging freezes.
Not to worry, PM Johnson is the shining Knight on the white horse soon to gallop to the rescue of his hard-pressed Conservative colleagues at County Hall.
Or should SCC Leader David Fothergill keep BBC Panorama on speed dial?