Conservatives respond on Somerset finances

The political recriminations around Somerset Council’s impending bankruptcy are already beginning.

Yesterday we published an open letter to Somerset residents from LibDem Council Leader Bill Revans.

Today Conservative Group Leader David Fothergill has issued a riposte.

As with the letter from Cllr Revans we publish this without further comment:

As Conservatives, we believe that taxpayers are the best judges of how their money should be spent. This means only collecting taxes that are essential to delivering public services and not a penny more. Between 2009 and 2022 (when Conservatives ran the County Council) we gratefully accepted the  additional funding from the LibDem/Conservative coalition government which replaced the need to increase council tax. We were able to deliver a balanced budget with minimal tax rises for our residents for our remaining time looking after the county’s finances – a record for which I am proud.

As a leader, I have always addressed the challenges that present themselves, rather than wistful reminiscing of what has gone before – otherwise the distraction of the staggering Lib Dem £350 million debt chalked up by their previous administration and its mind-blowing interest payments, could have  derailed our effective delivery of the services Somerset needed!

Since taking the reins in May 2022, this administration has dithered and delayed in taking action to address the challenges we have seen coming for a number of years. We left the council reserves in a comfortable position to face these challenges, but it is wrong to suggest that hundreds of millions of  pounds, that were surplus to requirements, should have been taken from Somerset residents in unnecessary taxes.

The move to a Unitary model, which was actually supported in the alternative Lib-Dem led business case, presented a fantastic opportunity but unfortunately has been squandered by a lack of focus, momentum and willingness to take difficult decisions. What is important now is that the current administration take a grip of the situation rather than just talking, blaming and avoiding decisions. Somerset deserves better.


  • There penchant for taking excess, and wasting tax payers money is legend in South Somerset.
    Now faced with real responsibilities, lashing out like spoilt brats is all that we can expect leading up to the General election.
    “Fibdems” is the right label for this shower of smug wannabes.

  • It might be against my political beliefs, but the Conservatives are correct. Lib Dems have no skills in financial management.

  • The £350M invested by the LibDems in the noughties replaced leaking classrooms, allowed children to stop using outdoor, unroofed toilets, built the Museum of Somerset (thereby saving Taunton Castle) and several libraries and replaced Silk Mills Level Crossing with a bridge. The cost was about £250M (the Tories have added the debt they ‘chalked up’ previously and handed to that LD administration to make £350M), and given this was effectively paid for by a mortgage, the repayments total no more than 5% of the council’s annual budget – not a big share of the current shortfall at all.

    I fully recognise Conservatives such as here can advocate different policy approaches but why are they never made to admit which classroom, school, library, museum or bridge should not have been built?

    These were investments made soundly at low rates of interest, in Somerset’s future and its children’s future and are civic achievements I for one feel give us pride in our county.

    The current shortfall was handed to my LibDem colleagues by the outgoing Conservatives less than 18 months ago and was only staved off by the gobbling up of the District Councils’ reserves following the government’s forced merger with the unviable County Council. It has been made worse by increasing costs of social care – now 65% of the council’s budget (and rising) – a problem government promised to reform but has failed to deliver.

    I’ve heard Conservatives say all the LibDem administration has to do is sack a load of people – but if the 330 planned redundancies were implemented now that would save only circa £16.5m, still leaving £83.5m budget gap – and doing this wasn’t in the Conservatives’ Business Case for their forced council merger – so the sums here don’t add up.

    It should make us all angry that the finances of four previously financially healthy District Councils have been ruined in the forced Council merger the public didn’t want and by government’s failure to face up to the social care crisis – they will regret that failure as the system around the country grinds to a halt.

  • Agree!

  • As Conservatives, we believe that taxpayers are the best judges of how their money should be spent.

    I would have believed that’s what the Tories believed once. Now I’m not so sure.

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