OPPOSITION councillors on bankruptcy-threatened Somerset Council have called for a ‘new approach’ to be adopted to balance the authority’s budget.

The new unitary council is facing a financial Armageddon just six months after it brought Somerset’s county and four district councils under one roof last April.

Conservative group leader Cllr David Fothergill said the Liberal Democrat administration inherited a ‘strong budget position and improving financial reserves’ at last year’s elections.

But he said the council now faced a £28 million shortfall against this year’s budget and an ‘eye-watering’ £100 million gap next year.

The council’s finance director has already written to the Government outlining the budget pressures and admitting there might be no choice but to call a Section 114 – effectively a bankruptcy notice - by February.

Cllr Fothergill said it was frustrating that the Lib Dems had ‘squandered the strong financial legacy that was handed to them’.

He said: “A lack of any sense of urgency has led to a failure to maintain focus, a failure to keep key personnel in post, and a failure to keep momentum towards financial sustainability.

“As a result, many unitary savings which were forecast and achievable have sadly not been realised.

“While it is clear that inflationary pressure on costs is having some effect – yet, neighbouring Conservative-run Wiltshire is forecasting a balanced budget, with other comparable councils also balancing or working to resolve single-figure budget gaps - a Section 114 is highly unusual.

“The responsible thing would have been to have taken action many months ago when issues became apparent rather than sitting back and waiting for someone else to fix the problems.”

Cllr Fothergill said ‘statutory services’ would be protected if the council went bust and the Government sent in commissioners to run it, but a vast range of other day to day services on which people depended would be scrapped.

Control of the council would effectively pass to outside commissioners tasked to cut costs and bring the finances back into line.

Cllr Fothergill said: “It is sad to see this financial crisis develop so quickly, the opportunities of moving to a unitary council have been wasted and the administration’s failure to maintain focus on costs and take necessary and appropriate actions will have a devastating impact upon people of Somerset.”