Council makes 'heart-breaking' decisions to balance budget for 2024/25

council makes 'heart-breaking' decisions to balance budget for 2024/25

The Council is having to making big cuts (Image: Newsquest)

STAFF cutbacks, cuts to services, increases to Council Tax, fees and charges, and selling assets are just some of Somerset’s Council’s plans to balance the budget for 2024/25.

The council has voted through plans to set a balanced budget for the coming financial year at their latest meeting on Tuesday, February 20.

Council leader Bill Revans said they had to make some ‘heart-breaking and unpalatable decisions’ in order to balance the budget.

On top of that, Somerset Council has received a stark warning from the Chief Financial Officer which said there is a ‘high level of concern around future years and the financial sustainability of the Council’.

Described as a “budget to avoid a S114 notice”, Members agreed to a range of measures to bridge a funding gap of £100m for 2024/25, including significant savings, increasing Council Tax by 5%, and using reserves (a council’s equivalent of savings).

The proposals also include a ‘capitalisation direction’ of £36.9m – this is where councils are given permission by Government to borrow money or sell assets to pay for day-to-day running costs.

Council Leader Cllr Bill Revans said: “Since declaring a financial emergency in response to the soaring cost of social care, we have done everything in our power to avoid a S114 notice.

“We have looked at all our non-statutory services to find savings and have taken a series of heart-breaking and unpalatable decisions, including cuts to services, increases to Council Tax, fees and charges, spending reserves, selling assets and property, and embarking on a top-to-bottom transformation programme which will reduce the size of our workforce by more than 20%.

He went on to say the Council is also heavily reliant on the Government providing a short term measure to help, and suggested the current system is broken.

“Despite this, we are still reliant on the Government agreeing to a capitalisation direction – a short-term, one-off measure which, while welcome, does nothing to address the long-term issues,” he said.

“Today we have set a balanced budget but it is clear that we have a broken model for funding local government and social care which urgently needs a national solution.”

A link to the Full Council papers, including the final list of savings proposals, can be found at https://democracy.somerset.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=214&MId=7098&Ver=4

The Chief Finance Officer provided an update in the form of a Section 25 Report and commented on the robustness of the budget proposals.

This provided assurance but also warned there is ‘high level of concern around future years and the financial sustainability of the Council’.

It highlighted a need for new and significant savings and concluded: “Based upon current forecasts there is a high likelihood that a Section 114 notice will need to be issued in respect of 2025/26.”

Some of the services initially put forward for savings have been protected through devolution and partnership working with City, Town and Parish Councils.

This includes savings linked to Somerset’s CCTV service, Yeovil Recreation Ground, Taunton Visitor Information Centre, highways maintenance, RNLI lifeguard provision, school crossing patrols, and important democratic functions.

Current negotiations with Somerset’s household waste recycling centre contractor will continue before any savings in this area are taken forward.

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