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County's forecast overspend prompts warning to PM

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Somerset CC’s children’s and adult social care services are under “grave threat”, according to its leader, as the county struggles to balance its budget.

John Osman (Con) has urged prime minister Theresa May to abandon plans to remove the revenue support grant to councils by the end of the decade.

This comes after officers this week projected a £22.6m overspend on Somerset’s 2016-17 net revenue budget of £312m. This was largely due to “increased costs in care packages” for adults and children in social care, as well as those in receipt of learning disabilities services.

In an open letter to Ms May, Cllr Osman said Somerset had been “chronically underfunded” historically and added £100m had been cut from the council’s budget since 2010.

A “new approach to local government finance” was needed, he said.

Cllr Osman said: “The council, its councillors, officers and its partners have worked hard to make efficiencies, absorb reductions, restructure our services and try to provide good quality services. Despite this I am sorry to say if changes are not immediately made to the funding system, the viability of our critical services those helping some of the most vulnerable people in our society including adult social care and children’s social care will be under grave threat.

“Somerset is not alone, the financial difficulties we face, all other upper tier councils face. This is therefore a national issue.”

Letter from Somerset CC leader John Osman to prime minister Theresa May

Dear Prime Minister,

Future Funding for Somerset County Council

I write to you not only as Leader of Somerset County Council, but also as a life-long Somerset resident that cares passionately about its residents, communities and businesses.

I ask that your Government takes a new approach to Local Government finance and stop the austerity plans that will see all Central Government grants to Councils cease by 2020.

Historically Somerset has been chronically underfunded and did not receive its fair share of either grant or education funding. Unfortunately, no previous Government was brave enough to redress the inequity. To compound the underfunding over the last six years which has seen £100m removed from our budgets, we also face the following further challenges:

  • Average age of our County’s retired population has risen significantly and continues to rise.
  • Demand for our adults and children’s services has vastly increased.
  • Minimal reserves mean this Council is finding it increasingly more difficult to balance its budget.

The council, its councillors, officers and its partners have worked hard to make efficiencies, absorb reductions, restructure our services and try to provide good quality services. Despite this I am sorry to say if changes are not immediately made to the funding system, the viability of our critical services those helping some of the most vulnerable people in our society including Adult Social Care and Children’s Social Care will be under grave threat.

Somerset is not alone, the financial difficulties we face, all other upper tier Councils face. This is therefore a national issue.

I therefore call for Central Government to:

1. Make no further reductions to Local Government in the Autumn Statement.

2. Immediately stop the planned Local Government grant funding reductions.

3. Confirm the amount of Business Rates that will be retained by all Councils in 2020.

This simple proposal will give Councils a period of stability, allow us to plan our financial positions, stop the reductions in our service and provide the critical services to these vulnerable residents that truly need them.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely

Cllr John Osman

Leader of Somerset County Council

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