Somerset parks could be locked overnight in bid to save money

PARKS in Wellington, Minehead and Taunton will be locked overnight in a bid to save money, if plans are approved.

The plan is among cost-cutting plans ahead of the final vote on Somerset Council’s 2024/25 budget, as it faces a £100 million funding shortfall.

At a meeting of the council’s Executive this week, senior officers and members warned of the impending financial struggles beyond 2025, even if the council makes it through the coming 12 months.

It came after the Government turned down a request from Somerset to raise council tax by 9.99% – above the limit of 4.99%.

Last year, Somerset Council declared a ‘financial emergency’ as the budget shortfall became clear, and last month it announced it was requesting emergency financial support from the Government.

Meanwhile, a host of cuts to services, including recycling centre closures, and redundancies were included in the 2024/25 plan.

The full budget will now be voted on by the Full Council on February 20.

Meanwhile, the Executive meeting on Tuesday (February 7) heard how CCTV services, Yeovil Recreation Ground, Taunton Visitor Information Centre, the Ranger Service in the south, had been saved after town and parish council stepped in to provide funding, while locking parks in Wellington, Minehead and Taunton overnight would also be introduced.

Elsewhere, talks with Somerset’s waste contractor will continue before any savings linked to closing household waste recycling centres are taken forward.

The Executive also passed amendments to withdraw or change a number of savings proposals to allow alternative funding models to be explored.

These include savings linked to highways maintenance, RNLI lifeguard provision, school crossing patrols, and savings linked to important democratic functions, such as Scrutiny committees.

Cllr Bill Revans, leader of Somerset Council, said: “It is clear the current model of funding local government is broken, and this means we have had to consider heartbreaking and unpalatable cuts to services we greatly value but simply cannot afford.

“We vowed to do everything in our power to find alternative ways of funding these and I have to thank our city, town and parish councils for the way they have stepped up.

“We will continue to explore all options to minimise the impacts on our communities.”

READ MORE: Around 1,000 jobs could go as Somerset Council tries to balance books
READ MORE: Fears bus routes could go as Somerset Council tackles financial crisis
READ MORE: MPs’ committee calls on Government to tackle “out-of-control financial crisis” at councils

After turning down the council tax request, Government is still considering the request for a capitalisation direction – where the council is allowed to borrow money or sell assets to pay for day-to-day running costs.

Cllr Revans added: “This is a disappointing decision which will impact on the long-term viability of our council.

“While no-one wanted to raise council tax, it was the only option we had to address a broken system where our costs are rising faster than our income.

“We have been prepared to take difficult decisions locally to minimise the impact on our communities – however, we are now reliant on the Government granting a capitalisation direction.

“This would be another short-term measure and is not the long-term solution which is urgently needed.”

Executive voted in support of proposals to balance the budget by making significant savings (with amendments noted), increasing Council Tax by the maximum allowed, selling council assets, and using reserves (a council’s equivalent of savings).

Meanwhile, the meeting was also handed stern warnings about the future sustainability of the council’s finances, including proposals to cut the workforce by up to 26% – around 1,000 jobs.

The council said it hopes to keep compulsory redundancies to a minimum, while reducing the number of agency workers, interims and consultants, and by opening a voluntary redundancy scheme.

One Comment

  1. Michael Brooks Reply

    Bad financial investments and management by some of the previous councils are partly to blame for this. Why are these individuals who made these decisions not being held to account? This is public money that has been wasted, and we the residents of Somerset are the ones that will suffer.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *