RESIDENTS are being asked for their views on the first-ever budget proposed by the new unitary Somerset Council which comes into existence on April 1.

Council tax bills for the new authority will start to be sent out in in late February/early March, the first time the services and costs from all four current Somerset district councils and the county authority have been brought together.

The proposed unitary council budget was published this week and showed a council tax rise of nearly five per cent.

The increase is made up of a basic rise of 2.99 per cent and a further two per cent for social care services.

Finance director Jason Vaughan warned councillors would have to ‘make some difficult choices’ to balance the budget, which was recently facing a £74.2 million shortfall until savings were identified to bring the gap down to £38.2 million.

Mr Vaughan said: “The medium-term financial challenge cannot be underestimated.”

He said unless the tough decisions were taken the new council would see reserves exhausted and the possibility of the Government serving a ‘section 114 notice’ - which bans any new spending commitments - ‘in the next couple of years’.

Mr Vaughan said the council already faced a budget gap for the 2024-25 financial year of nearly £40 million on a net budget of £500 million, which meant there would need to be further savings of eight per cent.

If approved, the 2022-23 budget would mean a £78.24 council tax increase for an average Band D property, equivalent to £1.50 per week.

The proposed budget for the new council is £491.37 million, which is £36 million more than the previous budgets of all five councils which are being merged.

It would see a £27 million increase in adult social care spending and an extra £18 million for children’s services – but more savings still needed to be found in both areas in the coming year.

County council deputy leader Cllr Liz Leyshon said: “This is an incredibly challenging time for most council budgets in the country but particularly so in Somerset, where we have been bringing together five council budgets into one.

“However, without the saving and efficiencies a new unitary council will bring, it would have been even more difficult to set a balanced budget for the next financial year.

“Post-Covid, the rise in demand for care services, and the rising cost of meeting that demand, has been striking.

“The new council will, of course, protect the services that touch most lives in Somerset and will continue to prioritise support for our most vulnerable residents.

“We have rejected options to close some of our household waste recycling centres and all of our libraries will remain open with unchanged hours. That will not be the case elsewhere in the country.

“We have also protected the grants that go to the voluntary sector and will take the opportunity of working more closely with representatives of the sector.”

The consultation is being held online and will run until February 10. It can be found here