UP to £19m in further savings will have to be found at Somerset County Council on top of the huge cuts agreed earlier this year.

The council has said that it is making good progress in delivering both the £8.845m savings agreed in its official budget in February and the separate package of  £15m in savings which was approved in September.

But additional savings will have to be found for each of the next three years as  central government funding is withdrawn.

The council has said that it will be monitoring the delivery of approved savings carefully, and has contingency plans in place to ensure that it can balance its books for the year ahead.

The full council and the cabinet both met in Taunton on Wednesday (October 17) to discuss what contingency plans were in place, in case the savings identified in February and September could not be achieved.

Peter Lewis, the council’s interim director of finance, confirmed in a written report that the council faced a funding gap of £19m in 2019/20 – of which only a small proportion could be plugged through higher council tax.

Assuming that all of the council’s existing savings proposals are achieved, the authority will have had to find nearly £43m in two years – equivalent to more than one-tenth of its overall budget.

Mr Lewis said: “Proposals for change of at least this amount will need to be prepared over the autumn period and for consideration by the relevant scrutiny committees, the cabinet and the council in early-2019.

“There are initial assessments of further gaps of £7m and £2m in the subsequent years, although additional work is required to finally validate these figures, and they are particularly likely to vary due to the as-yet-unknown

national funding arrangements.

This news comes as the council’s children’s services continues to overspend, with the total amount rising to more than £11.2m in light of placement costs and an increase in transport being provided to children – including £200,000 for journeys made by taxis.

Councillor Mandy Chilcott said there was “a mixed picture across the council, with some areas operating below budget to deliver excellent services.”

Mr Lewis said 70 per cent of savings which had been identified in the council’s February budget have been delivered, along with 85 per cent of the savings agreed in September.

He also claimed this latter level would rise to 95 per cent if the Schools Forum agreed to proposals changes at its next meeting in November.

Council leader David Fothergill said he was “delighted that confidence levels are growing” – but opposition councillors and members of the public were less convinced.

Alan Debenham, a former Taunton Deane councillor and Green Party member, described the £19m level as “an absolute disaster” and called on the council to “fight back” against the government.

Councillor Liz Leyshon criticised the council for “a lack of transparency”, claiming that the February budget would not have been approved if councillors had been given the complete picture of the authority’s financial situation.

Councillor Jane Lock added: “The simple question is: what happened between having a robust budget in February and not having a robust budget in September? What on earth happened?”

Mr Fothergill said that the overspend in children’s services was indicative of the national picture, claiming that the total UK overspend on such services was around £800m.

He added: “The people of Somerset can be assured that we fully understand the financial challenges we are facing, and we have a good track record to delivering savings.”

Ms Chilcott said that the progress of savings was being monitored on a fortnightly basis, to ensure that “remedial action” could be taken at the soonest opportunity.

She said: “We need to ensure that this council lives within its means. All areas of the council need to work together to deliver the desired outcome.”

Since the most recent savings proposals were agreed in September, the council’s projected overspend has fallen from £11.4M to its current level of just over £3.3m, with some of the savings still being delivered.

The council has £3.4mof contingency funding in place, which can be used to make up for any of the savings agreed in September that cannot be fully delivered.

Any money which is left over from this £3.4m will be put into the council’s general reserves at the end of the financial year.

Mr Lewis said: “The contingency of £3.4m is unallocated at this time, and cannot be released until later in the year when there will be more confidence in the delivery of the savings proposals and overall control of the budget.

“We are on track to achieving a balanced budget.”

The council’s policies and place scrutiny committee will meet in Taunton on October 24 to discuss the need to find further savings in greater detail.