Councillor Corner, Frome Times

by adamboyden on 15 February, 2024

So we might just do it. Somerset Council looks likely to be able to set a budget for the 2024-25 financial year at Full Council on 20th February, and avoid a Section 114 Notice. This would be some achievement.

Months ago, massive increases in the costs of social care (for elderly and disabled adults, and children), higher inflation and interest rates, Government underfunding of the new council, previous County council tax freezes, a low Council Tax and tax base, and the disruption of reorganising 5 councils into one meant that Somerset Council had a £100 million budget gap for 2024-25. If this was not closed, the Chief Finance Officer would effectively declare bankruptcy by submitting a Section 114 Notice, meaning expensive Government commissioners come in, cut services and increase council tax with no democratic control.

But Somerset Council’s Lib Dem administration now looks likely to avoid this, by consulting the community on your priorities, working furiously to make sufficient savings, going through the cross-party scrutiny process with councillors, asking Government for a capitalisation direction (which requires the sale of council assets and commercial investments), and working with town/city/parish councils to devolve local services. In Frome, the Town Council has stepped up, and will take on the public toilets and the costs of CCTV amongst other things. But some valued services will be lost, and many staff will be made redundant.

It is not just Somerset – the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, in a recent report pointed to systemic underfunding of local councils in England and called on the Government to fix a £4 billion hole in council funding now or risk severe impacts to council services and further councils facing effective bankruptcy, and called on the next Government to create a sustainable funding system for local authorities (as this one will not). Our MP Sarah Dyke has also been raising the issue effectively in parliament. The next general election will be your chance to elect a new Government that takes our vital public services seriously.

If anyone has issues to discuss, please email, call me or come see me at the Cheese & Grain café on Saturday 17th February from 9.00 to 10.30am.
Please see my website for updates and details of the above reports.

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