Somerset’s districts have conceded that a unitary solution could be required in order to ensure the sustainability of services run by their county council.
The five district leaders announced on Tuesday afternoon they were prepared to work with Somerset CC to find solutions to its financial problems, while insisting that their organisations were sustainable.
They were responding to county leader David Fothergill (Con) who last week sought to ”start the ball rolling” on unitary discussions in the county, with the intention of saving up to £28m annually, prompting district fury.
In a joint statement yesterday, the district leaders said his claim of the possible savings was “unrealistic” and “not based on a sound analysis”.
However, the districts recognised the pressures on adults social care impacting on the county. This ”together with the lack of progress in transforming the way it does business, means that the county council is not financially sustainable in the near future,” they said. ”Somerset’s district councils cannot stand by given the risk this poses to services and the communities we are here to serve.”
The district leaders said: “The claim that a unitary authority is needed to protect district council services is misplaced and just plain wrong.”
While recognising the need for change in local government, which “could include unitary councils”, the statement also sets out that “all other options should be objectively assessed as well”.
They leaders added: ”The district councils’ central aim in participating in any discussions will be to ensure that the priority is not to protect any one or group of existing organisations but to arrive at the best proposals for the residents and businesses of Somerset, recognising that we need to meet the needs of our communities over a large geographical area. The districts will ensure any change is the right change for the communities of Somerset.”
According to Somerset CC’s revenue budget monitoring report, presented to Cabinet on 12 February, the council is facing extra financial pressures on its children’s services departments and is being forced to spend from its reserves accounts to meet this demand. There were 16,000 days of children’s services care projected for the second quarter of 2017-18, which rose to 18,200 days in reality.
The National Audit Office reported in March that one in 10 councils could exhaust their reserves entirely within three years in order to balance the books and meet their social care responsibilities.
The joint statement was signed by Mendip DC leader Harvey Siggs (Con), Sedgemoor DC leader Duncan McGinty (Con), South Somerset DC leader Ric Pallister (Lib Dem), Taunton Deane BC leader John Williams (Con) and West Somerset DC leader Anthony Trollope-Bellew (Con).