THE leader of bankruptcy-threatened Somerset Council, Cllr Bill Revans, has written to every local town and parish council to blame his authority’s financial woes on everybody but the council itself.
Liberal Democrat Cllr Revans said the council was facing an ‘enormous financial challenge’ to avoid becoming the next authority after Birmingham to issue a Section 114 notice, which effectively is a declaration of bankruptcy.
Cllr Revans pointed to factors such as:
Rising costs of social care
Failure by Government to bring forward a ‘Fair Cost of Care’ policy
Government dramatically reducing funding for local authorities over recent years
A cap on maximum council tax hikes
Cllr Revans also blamed the former Conservative administration for saving council taxpayers £200 million by freezing council tax for six years in a row – but did not mention £328 million of debt left by an earlier Lib Dem administration which today still sees the authority paying it off at nearly £40,000 per day.
One-in-10 local authorities around the country are estimated to be at risk of not being able to meet their spending commitments when budgets are fixed next February, resulting in a S114 situation.
However, Somerset was said to be in one of the worst positions of any and also to have one of the highest debts of any local council in the country.
Now, Cllr Revans is asking town and parish councils to take over services he said Somerset might no longer be able to provide, suggesting that they could increase their council tax precepts to cover the extra costs.
Street cleaning and fly-tipping
Highways maintenance works such as roadside verges, drain and gully clearance, and grass cutting
Hedge trimming and weed treatment
Litter and dog waste bin emptying
Open spaces and sports grounds management and maintenance
Local tourism and economic development
Support for leisure facilities and the arts
Community centres and young people’s facilities
Climate change initiatives and flood response measures
Cllr Revans said: “The scale of the financial challenge facing Somerset Council means we are rapidly having to review all of our activities and prioritise where our limited resources are deployed.
“We are asking town and parish councils to consider which, if any, of the services we have listed they think their communities would like them to support financially.
“We will not make any decisions lightly, however, our town and parish councils may want to help our communities continue to enjoy the services they currently have.
“By transferring the ownership and management of some assets and services to the local level, local councils can potentially better tailor them to the specific needs and preferences of communities.
“You can also access additional funding sources that are not available to the larger authorities and make use of local networks to mobilise volunteers and partners.
“Service devolution can also enhance the role of town and parish councils as they become more involved in local decision making and place shaping.”
Cllr Revans said his authority would not be able to finalise its budget until February, with a draft ready in early December, so he could not yet definitively state which ‘discretionary services’ would still be provided next year.