Rishi Sunak Urges Somerset Council: ‘Get on with it’ Amid Budget Crisis

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UK (Parliament Politic Magazine) – Rishi Sunak backs local councils amid Somerset’s £100M financial crisis. The council seeks cuts and tax hikes to avoid bankruptcy

Rishi Sunak has supported Government backing for local councils as he faced questions about the shaky financial situation confronting Somerset Council, which needs £100 million to evade bankruptcy.

The Prime Minister informed BBC Radio Somerset the local council should handle its finances and “get on and deliver for people.” Further, He said, “We have increased the funding for local councils across the country by about £600 million recently, which will mean on average councils will have approximately 7.5% more money to spend this next year than they did last year.

“Some of that money is explicitly dedicated for rural counties like Somerset, where it’s harder to provide services in rural areas, which we acknowledge.”

 “But it’s also essential that councils manage the cost of living for their residents, and councils asking the Government just to allow them to whack in incredibly high council tax rises are incorrect.”

“And that’s why we have referendum precepts. If councils want to do that, they can ask their residents to give them the authority to put in excessive council tax rises, but we strike a balance between councils raising the money they need but making sure they don’t unnecessarily burden people, and that’s what we’ve done.” He contended, “Ultimately, they should manage the finances – we put £600 million more in, and it’s right that they get on and deliver for people.”

Recently, Somerset Council has stated it needs to find £100m to avoid effectively bankrupt. Cuts to services totaling £35m have been offered, and people’s council tax bills have increased.

Somerset Council announced a financial emergency in November 2023. It had anticipated an estimated budget gap for 2024/25 of £42m but stated in November that the forecast had grown to £100m. The council expressed that the costs of delivering services, especially adult social care, were rising significantly faster than income. It has also accused national factors such as inflation and higher interest rates. It is attempting to avoid effectively going bust and being suited a Section 114 notice, as has occurred to other authorities like Birmingham City Council.

The council would fail the ability to commit to new spending and bear decisions if it was issued with the notice. Somerset Council is in its first year of process, having been formed in April 2023 from a coalition of four district councils and Somerset County Council.

It says this has also generated problems as it has come to light that all the previous councils controlled their budgets differently.

Moreover, The council has discovered £35.2m of proposed savings. They are shutting five of the county’s 16 recycling bases: Castle Cary, Cheddar, Crewkerne, Dulverton, and Williton. It’s also examining ending council funding for public toilets and CCTV, cutting highway care, and closing two tourism visitor camps.

Grants for bus services will be checked, and so will support for the county’s theatres, including Taunton’s Brewhouse Theatre’s £119,000 a year grant.

Some of these benefits, like CCTV and public toilets, may stay if town and parish councils start spending for them instead.

Yeovil Town Council has arranged to step in and pay for sports structures at Yeovil Recreation Centre. An athletics stadium and hockey pitches were under threat of closure from a suggested £165,000 Somerset Council funding cut.

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A petition against this also compiled thousands of signatures. An agreement with the RNLI to deliver beach lifeguards at Burnham-on-Sea and Brean could be eliminated, saving £35,000 a year. Also, three parks could be left open overnight to keep money on contractor costs to lock them, pressing concerns over vandalism and safety.

Beth Malcolm

Beth Malcolm is Scottish based Journalist at Heriot-Watt University studying French and British Sign Language. She is originally from the north west of England but is living in Edinburgh to complete her studies.