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£5m extra funding will “not help” plug £500m blackhole in Somerset budget

AN extra £5 million will “not help” plug a £100m hole in Somerset’s finances.

Councils in England will receive a share of a £600m support package from central government – with Somerset predicted to receive an additional £5m.

However, leader Bill Revans said the extra cash, while welcome, did not do enough to fix a “broken system”, or address the £100m shortfall in Somerset.

It comes after the council announced plans to raise extra money as part of the upcoming Budget, including raising council tax by 9.99%.

“Any extra funding is of course welcome, but £5m will not help us overcome a projected budget shortfall of £100m for next year,” he said.

“We still have a broken model of local government finance and social care funding which needs to be addressed.

“We have explored all options to reduce our gap and it is clear we will need Government approval to increase council tax and use capital funding to create a sustainable council.”

 

Somerset Council declared a financial emergency in November, and earlier this month the Executive agreed to formally request a 9.99% increase in council tax as part of the 2024/25 budget – which would generate an additional £17.1m and take the average band D council tax bill in Somerset to £1,810.

The council also plans to use £36.8m of reserves – though this can only be done once.

The remaining gap would need to be covered by asking Government for a ‘capitalisation direction’, which would allow the council to borrow money or sell assets to fund day-to-day running costs.

As reserves and capital funds can only be used once, for future years the council will need to significantly reduce its budget.

This will include a transformation programme to reduce the size of the organisation and its staffing so it can live within its means, with measures such as closing recycling centres and not filling vacancies among cost-cutting proposals.

Final decisions to set a balanced budget for 2024/25 will be taken by Full Council in February.

READ MORE: Have your say on Somerset Council’s 2024/25 Budget plans
READ MORE: Some positive news – but cuts coming at Somerset Council
READ MORE: Somerset Council could declare bankruptcy amid ‘financial emergency’

Announcing the extra funding, Levelling Up Secretary, Michael Gove, said: “We have listened to councils across England about the pressures they’re facing and have always stood ready to help those in need.

“This additional £600 million support package illustrates our commitment to local government. We are in their corner, and we support the incredible and often unsung work they do day-to-day to support people across the country.”

Cllr Shaun Davies, chair of the Local Government Association, said: “The LGA welcomes that the Government has acted on the concerns we have raised and recognised the severe financial pressures facing councils, particularly in providing services to the most vulnerable children and adults through social care services and delivering core front-line services to communities.

“We will continue to work with Government to achieve a sustainable long term funding settlement and updated distribution mechanisms, as well as legislative reform where needed, so that local government can play its full part in delivering inclusive prosperity and growth through investment to support people, places, and the planet.”

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