‘County Council in Freefall” says Bridgwater Labour

county morale
Where did it all go wrong at County Hall??

Bridgwater Labour has hit out at the financial crisis that has beset Somerset Council who are now facing a £100 million shortfall with potential for huge cut backs in services and staff. Cllr Tim Mander, who worked for Sedgemoor Council for 36 years commented: “Somerset Council’s financial state is a travesty for all concerned but the finger of blame is clear. Both nationally and locally the Conservative Party has brought the County to its knees and the saddest thing is that the financially well-run districts have been dragged down alongside the former County Council. When Fothergill and his Tory cohorts pushed the Unitary Model he was clearly attempting to raid the district coffers in the hope of propping up the financial basket case that was the County Council. Unfortunately, less than 6 months down the line Somerset Council’s financial model has imploded. This is a dark day for the staff, in particular ex district council staff who must wonder what have they done wrong? Clearly the government must step in and help stabilise the financial situation as clearly the elderly and vulnerable should not pay the price for the Tory Party incompetence”. 

Cllr Tim Mander -‘financial basket case that was county council’

Going for Broke

It is understood that Somerset Council are on the verge of serving a Section 114 Notice which basically means they cannot balance their books. If this was a private company, they would be going into administration. Staff are being instructed to freeze budgets and committed projects are being picked through for every penny. Not surprisingly staff morale is at rock bottom which is not a healthy situation for a new Council. Bridgwater Labour is concerned that externally funded projects like the £23 million Town Fund and £19 million former Bridgwater Hospital site levelling project could be compromised and is looking for reassurance that this will not be the case.

Leigh Redman

County Council Labour leader cllr Leigh Redman (Bridgwater North & Central) says “The position Somerset Council finds itself has been signposted for sometime, I think the people of Somerset have been disproportionately impacted by circumstances outside of their control. I have said it before, I believe we are in the big hole locally now, because of the actions of 13 years of tory government and the actions started by the tory administration more than 15 years ago, cuts, cuts, and cuts, Somerset was one of the first councils that took the Eric Pickles school of local government finance to an extreme, the level of cuts inflicted on Somerset people, heightened by a long period of frozen council tax and cuts in grants from central government, has devastated many of the services the council provides. The messages coming out of Somerset council now are very concerning, the over spend of last year, the combining of 5 councils, the new finance system, the uncertainty for staff, costs for social care, the lack of confidence in the current government, are all coming together to make our short term future a lot more worrying. The Labour group on Somerset council are holding the ruling group to account, we continue to listen to the conversations heard from residents, building on our local agenda, we need to meet the urgent need for our communities, we need to be making our case to government while we are getting ready for the next general election, the cost of living is having a disproportionate impact on those in our communities who cannot withstand it, the areas of deprivation in Somerset are taking the toll of cuts, we need to find a way to rebalance,  we need to build a better future for the people of Somerset and the only way for that is for the next government to be Labour and that needs to be now!”

Brian Smedley “Lib Dems created all this to be honest”

Lib Dems-‘only got themselves to blame’

Leader of Bridgwater Town Council, Brian Smedley (Labour, Westover) who is also a County Councillor said “It does look a bit like the County is in freefall here. We said nothing good would come of this overlarge unitary which was a crazy Tory idea in the first place which even people on their own side didn’t agree with. Make no mistake it’s those years of Tory austerity from Westminster and compliance by the county Tories that have got us to this position. Last year the people of Somerset voted in the Lib Dems to replace those Tories ..ironic as it was the Lib Dems that let the Tory Government in back in 2010 with their coalition and gave them the green light for all that’s happened since then. No one can envy their position..but…they’ve only themselves to blame.”

Workers mustn’t be penalised

County Council workers Union Unison say that Somerset Council’s £100m budget shortfall threatens jobs and essential services, but staff and residents should not have to pay the price for government failings. Somerset Council chief executive David Sharkey warned of job cuts, tax rises and a fire sale of buildings to try to avoid declaring the council bankrupt. Commenting on the situation, UNISON South West regional secretary Kerry Baigent said: “Persistent government underfunding of core local services, including social care, is having disastrous consequences for councils and the communities they serve.“But staff and residents shouldn’t pay the price for ministers’ failings. Council services are already stretched to the limit after 13 years of government cuts and penny-pinching.The spiralling cost of social care has added to Somerset’s financial troubles. The care system is broken, inadequately resourced and letting down absolutely everyone dependent upon it.The government’s abject failure to help mend social care and start the much-needed reforms has been nothing short of a nightmare for local authorities left to pick up the pieces.There’s a crisis in public services. The government has to wake up and intervene with the lifeline of significant extra funding. Several councils have already gone bankrupt, Somerset could be the next and there’ll be many others to follow.UNISON will do all it can to work with the authority to protect jobs and services in the light of this devastating news.”

Greed and Mismanagement

MICK LERRY “Labour can put this right”

Mayor of Bridgwater Cllr Mick Lerry (Labour, Victoria) said “A section 114 notice will not protect statutory sectors such as care, education, roads and the vulnerable as spending can be kept below inflation and cuts in services will not always meet the demands of under funding over the past 13 years. For years Tory controlled Somerset refused to increase the Council Tax while services declined. The poison chalice has now been passed to the new administration. Well where did the 18 million legacy funding go as promised by the Tory Council, promoting the new unitary Council. The problem facing Somerset Council today in trying to balance the budget, is due to Tory individual greed and mismanagement. It will now be up to Town Councils, such as Bridgwater, to make sure that civic pride and services are maintained for people in Bridgwater. The Town Council will not let the people down, Labour are there to serve the people and are not there to run services down.”

What next?

The current County figures show the budget gap for the current financial year now stands at £27.3m. Although the County believes that this figure could be covered by reserves, things get worse and the projected shortfall for the following year (2024/25) is now £100m, far exceeding levels of reserves.  County says “The main driver of this is a £70m increase in adult social care costs, caused by proposed changes to national policy which aimed to make the cost of care fairer. Although the policy change was later abandoned by Government, in Somerset this has led to significant rises in the costs of residential and nursing care placements. This means the Council cannot rely on reserves to cover the gap for next year and, without action, will need to issue a section 114 notice, effectively declaring the council bankrupt.”

Watch this space….

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Eva Bryczkowski
Eva Bryczkowski
7 months ago

Spot on everybody.

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