Conservative-run Somerset County Council has warned that the authority is on the brink of following Northamptonshire Council into bankruptcy. A report issued to Somerset County Council Cabinet meeting this week noted that it may be necessary for them to issue a Section 114 if their £12.1m deficit is not addressed. Demand for children’s services is higher than last year, forcing the council to approve the use of £5m of their £7.3m contingency funds. These funds are set aside to see the department through the year but only three-months into the financial year, the authority is predicting a £14.3m budget deficit in their children’s services.
Councillor Leigh Redman, Leader of the Labour group on Somerset County Council, speaking after attending the Cabinet meeting, said: “Government cuts and funding pressures have come together to cause this current worrying financial environment, and local taxpayers and especially Somerset’s young people and children must not be the ones who suffer. Our children services have only just come out of two inadequate OFSTED ratings, and it has been a real challenge to make the service fit for purpose while maintaining our provision to the young people of Somerset. The service is under pressure from a number of fronts, including difficulty in recruiting a permanent workforce with some 60 vacancies. This places increasing pressure on the salaries budget due to a greater dependence on locum social workers. The Government and Somerset Council must do everything in their power to make sure it can’t be our children who pay the price for their bad decisions and enforced austerity.”
Labour Nationally issues warning
Andrew Gwynne MP, Labour’s Shadow Communities and Local Government Secretary, said: “The alarm bells are ringing at Somerset County Council. A combination of Government funding cuts and huge increases in demand for children’s services are leaving many authorities struggling to cope – and now another Tory council is warning that these cuts may soon see it following Northamptonshire into bankruptcy. Some of the most vulnerable children in our society are being forced to pay the price for Tory austerity. The next Labour government will put an end to this neglect of our vital services, ensuring that every child gets the support they need.”
New Approach to Local Government Needed
Labour Bridgwater Town Council Leader, Cllr Brian Smedley said “Under this Government funds to local authorities have been cut back and several dogmatic Tory councils have failed to keep up with their own National masters by persistently keeping their precepts low at the expense of cutting back services. This is clearly what’s happened at Tory Somerset. One thing we mustn’t do is let ourselves be drawn under the spell of the unitary review which closes down smaller authorities just to save the skin of an inept Somerset collossus. There is now a real chance to re-look at how we fund local government and genuinely find a way to create a system where power comes upwards from the people and is retained at the localest level that makes sense.”