Somerset

Somerset County Council approves major cuts

Protestors outside Shire Hall
Image caption There were protests outside the meeting at Shire Hall

A cash-strapped council has agreed major cuts to services including highways and social care in a bid to balance its books.

Conservative-run Somerset County Council's cabinet unanimously approved the action at a meeting on Wednesday.

There were protests outside Shire Hall in Taunton by members of the Unison union and The People's Assembly.

The cuts will have "a huge impact" and "affect the most vulnerable", opponents have claimed.

Council leader David Fothergill said the model for funding local authorities was "broken" and it was "absolutely the most difficult set of decisions we have had to consider".

Image caption More than 70 different proposals to save about £15m were debated at the meeting

Proposals approved include reducing the winter gritting network from 23 to 16 routes and removal of funding for Citizens Advice bureau services.

Up to 130 jobs including 80 from the GetSet programme, which provides support to vulnerable families, will also be cut.

The council said the cuts would save about £13m over the rest of this financial year, and £15m in 2019/20.

Plans to cut funding for the Young Carers Project, which supports children and teenagers, have been deferred until the new year.

Councillor Simon Coles said the authority was "gambling with people's lives".

There were cries of "shame" and a clapping protest during the early stages of the meeting.


Analysis

By Daniel Wainwright, BBC England Data Unit

Somerset County Council says it is spending more than it set out in its budget and expects to overspend by £11.4m by March 2019 unless it takes action.

It says one of the biggest pressures is on a rising number of children needing foster care.

In its cabinet report the council says it is expecting to spend £19m on children and families, almost £7.5m more than it had forecast.

The pressures also appear in official spending and budget data for 2017-18 published by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG).

Overall that year, the government reported the council spent £599.2m. This compared with an earlier budget report of £551m.

The council had reported plans to spend just under £71m on children's social care. It finished the year having spent £81.4m, 15% more than it had set out.

Adult social care costs were also higher than budgeted. The council spent £157.5m, compared with a budget of £140.7m.

About one in four people in Somerset (24.2%) is over the age of 65. This gives Somerset the 10th highest rate of over 65s per head of population out of the 152 local authority areas in England with adult social care responsibilities.


Independent councillor Mike Rigby suggested Conservative councillors should resign and claimed they had been "hung out to dry" by the government.

Two councillors and the Unison union called for an emergency full council meeting to discuss the cuts.

Bob Ashford, from foodbank provider Fair Frome, said that the cuts were "all to those providing services for the most vulnerable".

Jon Shoesmith, from Taunton Citizens Advice Bureau, added: "Increasingly we deal with more vulnerable members of the community because other services have been cut as well.

"We're crossing a red line here for sure."

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