Somerset’s Tory leader, John Osman, is pleading for help from Theresa May, in the face of a financial crisis brought about by years of dogmatic austerity at county and national level. But his plea is likely to fall on deaf ears – and Labour says the £24 million funding gap in Somerset should be blamed squarely on Tory policies.
Somerset Tories are trying to wriggle out of responsibility for the underfunding. Osman says he’ll be writing to the prime minister this week, setting out what he calls the “huge pressures” facing the county council. What he doesn’t say is that Somerset has suffered from a double whammy – of funding cuts from the Tory government, coupled with a refusal by local Tories to bring in modest increases in council tax.
Need for better funding
The leader of Somerset County Council Labour group, Cllr Leigh Redman said:
“The projected overspend of £24 million is a predictable consequence of years of short sighted policies. National government has squeezed funding for councils and at the same time, local Tories have refused to take steps which could have averted the crisis we now face.
“Modest increases in council tax would have kept the finances of the county on a good footing. Instead, council tax was frozen and services came under pressure. Outsourcing and staff cuts made things worse. A big chunk of the funding gap comes from the use of agency staff.
“I have always supported the need for better funding for Somerset, we have councils around the country already commenting that they will not be able to meet their statutory service obligations if these cuts continue.
The previous coalition & this current government have been systematically running down funding of councils for years and it must change policy now. Decent services need proper funding. We need a major campaign to press government for fairer funding before it is to late.
This dogmatic approach by Tories at local and national level has brought Somerset to the brink of bankruptcy.”