Somerset

Somerset County Council's spending freeze 'hideously difficult'

Somerset County Council HQ, Taunton
Image caption The county council currently has £15m in reserves

Freezing all non-essential spending at Somerset County Council was a "hideously difficult" decision to make, its chief executive has said.

On Thursday, the council told its staff that all spending on non-statutory services would be frozen until April.

Chief executive Pat Flaherty confirmed the email, saying he was "not trying to put any extra strain on staff".

Trade union Unison said the freeze "did not come as a shock" and was in talks with the council over the impacts.

'Public satisfaction'

He added that there no plans to make any staff redundancies but any existing vacancies would not be filled.

Mr Flaherty said: "If we can't do it then stop - we won't do it. It doesn't mean [staff] do the extra hours to cover it."

The trade union said it was waiting for the results of the risk analysis, which were being made.

Oli Foster-Burnell from Unison said: "You're looking at at various services in libraries, highways.

"So what does it mean if they don't fill a pothole?... Does that mean they will get more claims from motorists? Is that cost going to get any higher?"

Mr Flaherty added that dipping into its £15m of reserves was a last resort to make up the £7m shortfall.

The spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said: "Councils have worked hard over the past five years to deliver a better deal for local taxpayers, while public satisfaction with services has been maintained.

"Councils are currently sitting on £22bn in reserves and should make funding decisions that reflect the services local people want to see."

Somerset County Council is also expecting to have a further £50m cut out of its budget over the next three years.

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