“Nobody comes into politics to make decisions like this” said Tory County Leader Cllr David Fothergill, as he announced massive cutbacks in services and jobs, admitting “but local government’s continuous lobbying for more funding simply hasn’t been heard”. Cllr Fothergill also accepted that despite making £130m of ‘savings’ over the last eight years, the authority had now reached the “very sharp end” of continued austerity. “Local authorities have to deliver a balanced budget, but the funding we receive falls far short of the cost of the services we provide and that has to have an impact. We’ve tried hard to avoid this, looked at every option open to us in terms of financial flexibility, but have been left with no choice. These proposals will be hard to deliver and difficult to stomach for anyone who works for or with this authority. This is the very sharp end of austerity, but the consequences of not taking this action, of not bringing ourselves to financial sustainability, would be even harder on our residents and that has to be avoided.”
Reaction has been swift from Labour Leaders and Trades Unionists across the county with a demonstration called to lobby the Tory cabinet meeting at Shire Hall on Wednesday 12th September to oppose attacks pn Public Services, on the most vulnerable and on front line staff terms and conditions.
Workers Call to Action
County Labour Group Leader, Cllr Leigh Redman (Bridgwater South) has called for people to support the lobby saying “The cuts to services is going to be massive. The Tory government & Tory council cuts have put Somerset in a worst position than others on the precipice, we need to show them for what they are. The blame has to sit somewhere, and in my opinion, the previous two Tory-led administrations started the decline. There were massive cuts to services which started in 2010, led by then-leader Ken Maddock.The following administration’s choice to freeze council tax for seven years, which combined with the government’s austerity agenda increased the pain.”
Tories in Government, Tories at County
Labour Leader of Bridgwater Town Council, Cllr Brian Smedley (Bridgwater,Westover) also supported the mass protests saying “In fact this Tory bombshell has been long predicted at Somerset as other Tory councils are beginning to go under as a direct result of their Government’s programme of austerity and failure to properly fund local government . We’ve had this austerity since the ConDem coalition of 2010 and it has been ordinary working people paying the price and suffering the consequences. David Fothergill recognises the cause of his problems and he should now face up to central Government and admit they were wrong for slavishly following those policies, that they should have raised precepts accordingly instead of taking pride in low taxes and should join us in standing up to the Government and getting involved in a fightback now!”
Knock on impact at lower levels
Tory cuts at County for the remainder of this financial year amount to £3.8m in services for adults, £2.1m in services for children, £3.8m from highways and infrastructure, and £2.9m from the corporate support services. But the withdrawal of funding and jobs will have an even wider knock on effect.
Cllr Mick Lerry, (Bridgwater Victoria) Leader of the Labour Group on SDC, said: ‘Somerset County Council Budgets Cuts will have an impact on partnership agreements to deliver services to those residents in need. Somerset County Council set a budget for 2018/19 and they are now looking to reduce the budget again in September 2018 by 12 million. Sedgemoor District Council will now have to review all budget cut proposals by SCC, to ascertain the impact on delivery of partner services such as; Citizens Advice Bureau, Flood management, extra care and supported housing. To off load these budget cuts half way through the financial year, when Sedgemoor District Council has planned for the SCC budget to be available until 2019, is gross political mismanagement by the Tory Led Administration at County Hall. It has been estimated that over the years the freezing of the Council Tax has led to an accumulation loss of income of nearly 100million pounds. This was a local decision that has meant that over the years SCC has been unable to balance the budget, without using substantial reserves. The result is now SCC has to take drastic measures at the 11th hour, similar to that of Tory led Northamptonshire County Council”.
Where the axe will fall
“At this moment it will be difficult to estimate the increased resident demand on the Council during this financial year. For example the proposed cuts to the Citizens Advice Bureau, who work across Somerset with approximately 80,000 residents, will impact on the ability of CAB to provide casework provision. Which will mean that many of the residents in need will be referred to Sedgemoor District Council and this will impact on the Councils services to provide support for local residents”.
“Recently Somerset County Council carried out a review and consultation of the Sure Start Children’s Centres in Sedgemoor, and the outcome of that review was that there would be no detriment to the Public Health and Welfare provision at the centres provided by GeSet. Yet already Somerset County Council is reducing the early help services provided to children and their families by GetSet. At the same time the Youth Service will also see a decline in funding that will really reduce the service radically. At the moment in Bridgwater the District and Town Council already provide grants to assist with Youth provision in the area. As Chair of the Board at Victoria Park Community Centre I have real concerns for the local people who use theses services”
Cllr Mick Lerry concluded “This political mismanagement of the budget at County Hall and the introduction of drastic cuts half way through the financial year. Along with the shunting of SCC service provision to District Councils and partners, proves that Somerset County Council is in no position to believe that they can become the single unitary authority in Somerset”.
The County proposals include:
· Compulsory two days unpaid for all staff and councillors for the next two years (approx. £1m)
· Reducing the winter gritting network from 23 to 16 routes (£120,000)
· Suspend Taunton’s two Taunton Park and Ride services (£170,000)
· Removal of administration funding from the four district Citizens Advice Bureau services, protecting the grant (£469,000)
· Reduction in the Council’s early help support, including getset services, support for young carers and Youth Services (£2.5m)
· Reduced contribution to reserves (£1.9m)
· Changes to Learning Disability contract (£770,000)
· Cancelling and reducing ICT contracts and licences (£129,000)
If all the proposals are approved by Cabinet, up to 130 staff posts could be lost and a consultation on this has been started with the Trades Unions.
Lobby the County on 12 September
As protestors gear up for the Lobby of County Hall on 12th September, angry voices added their support. “Liberal market economics have not worked for the majority of the population.” “Prices, in particular housing, have gone up, wages and pensions have gone down.” The Council could have stood up to the government when austerity was announced and as a clear result the people of Somerset will have poorer services and yet pay more taxes. “