Staff and councillors will be forced to take unpaid leave and 130 jobs will be lost, Somerset CC has confirmed.
Cuts to both children’s and adults’ services are also being planned, despite concerns about the impact they will have on service users, as the council seeks to find £13m in-year savings.
Somerset leader David Fothergill (Con) said: “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.”
LGC reported yesterday how Somerset was planning to discuss potential job losses, while we also reported last month how the council had been considering asking staff to take unpaid leave over the next two Christmas holidays in order to save £1m. Somerset has confirmed it will be axing 130 jobs and enforcing two days unpaid leave for all staff and councillors for the next two years.
These are just two of about 70 cost-cutting measures that will be discussed by Somerset’s cabinet next Tuesday.
In the report due to go before councillors, Somerset’s senior accountant Paul Griffin said: “Many of the savings proposals will be difficult and painstaking to implement. Bringing financial control to a large, complex and sensitive spending area, like children’s services, will be challenging. However, both of these challenges must be overcome if the council is to reinstate financial stability to allow it to deliver sustainable services for the people of Somerset and meet its statutory duties.”
Mr Griffin highlighted a need to take “swift and decisive action” after auditor Grant Thornton issued the council with an adverse value for money conclusion.
The “main area of pressure in the council’s [2017-18] budget has been in children’s services”, with increased demands and difficulties finding savings, said Mr Griffin.
“To off-set the overspend in children’s services it is necessary to find savings in all areas of the council’s work,” he said.
Mr Griffin’s report warns that “a high proportion of the impacts identified will affect young people”, those with disabilities, as well as women who “could be disproportionately affected by the changes to support services for disabled people and young people”.
Among the proposals to be considered are:
- Reducing early help support, and support for young carers and youth services (saving £2.5m)
- Making changes to the learning disability contract, “specifically the removal of the current crisis service and a reduction in the short breaks service” (saving £770,000)
- Removing administration funding from the four district Citizens Advice Bureau services (saving £469,000)
- Reducing the winter gritting network from 23 to 16 routes (saving £120,000)
- Suspending Taunton’s two park and ride services (saving £170,000)
There is also plan to reduce the level of contribution to reserves by £1.9m. LGC has previously reported how the county council’s level of reserves is low.
Even if all of the savings measures are backed by councillors “and rigorously followed through by officers” then there will still be an expected overspend of “no more than £2m”, said Mr Griffin.