THE leader of Somerset County Council will be getting a lot of Christmas cards this year – but not for the reason he would have hoped.

Members of the campaign group Stop Somerset Cuts will be sending large numbers of Christmas cards to Councillor David Fothergill to lobby against further cuts to public services.

The group has designed the cards themselves, highlighting services which they feel have been unfairly cut or are at threat from future savings proposals.

Mr Fothergill expressed sympathy with the campaigners but said the authority had to deliver a balanced budget.

The Christmas card campaign originated from a post about lost services on the campaigners’ Facebook group.

A spokesperson said: “When a request was made on our Facebook group asking what’s gone ‘missing’ in Somerset this year, with over 130 comments it became clear just how much we have actually lost.

“When comparing the cost of the multiple cuts of £13m [by April 2019] to the refurbishment of County Hall costing over £9m, it gives the impression that a building seem to be of more importance than the needs of Somerset residents.

“With £15m more cuts due in 2019, it seems that Christmas, the time of goodwill, reflection and charity, is a good time to highlight the effects the decisions made to date have had, and may help them consider the true implications of cuts made and due.”

The council confirmed in October that it would have to find a further £19m to plug its expected budget gap next year – of which only a small amount could be achieved by raising council tax.

This does not include £2m of savings which were agreed in September (along with the £13m referred to by the campaigners) but will not come be achieved until the end of March 2020.

Along with large numbers of cards sent by individual members, Stop Somerset Cuts will be sending one larger card containing a “very long scroll” listing every service that has been cut.

The spokesperson said: “It became clear that people wanted to send their own cards too, so a more personalised approach that focuses on how their lives have been affected.

“Many parents will be making and sending cards with their children, who have been hit multiple times by cuts. Others will be including re-worked Christmas poems.

“We would encourage others to do the same. If you’ve been impacted or will be or are concerned then please get involved.”

A number of designs for the cards have already been published on the Facebook group.

Some implore the council to take action, with one stating: “A Christmas wish: we believe there is still time for you all to change your minds. Save our children’s centres.”

Others are more satirical, describing the council as being on Father Christmas’ “naughty list”, or showing a confusing signpost with the caption: “Forever providing a clear direction for Somerset.”

Others still are darkly humorous, including a poem on gritting which reads: “Gritting reduced/ Road safety cuts/ Merry Christmas/ Wish us all luck.”

The spokesperson added: “This is being done to remind the council that people have been impacted by decisions made and we are aware more , far deeper cuts, are planned.

“It is hoped that in the spirit of Christmas the leader will read them, and if a request of support is made by any individual, he will contact them and ensure they get the assistance they need.”

The council has said the £9.9m building work on County Hall is being paid for out of capital funding – meaning the money cannot be spent on day-to-day expenditure on services – and would allow the authority to make further annual savings in the long run.

A spokesman said: “As an invest to save project, it will yield an immediate and ongoing payback for the council amounting to over £700,000 of revenue savings annually.

“Over £6.4m, two thirds of the total cost, is taken up by the essential works including a replacement of the boiler and heating system, asbestos removal and electrical works – which are needed to keep County Hall and the Crown Courts at Shire Hall functioning.

“The remaining £3.5m will achieve the immediate and ongoing revenue savings of over £700,000, generated by modernising the offices so staff can be moved in from several other buildings in the Taunton area, ending significant lease costs.

“Importantly, these works will also free up C Block for sale or redevelopment at substantial benefit to the council, as it will become surplus to needs.

Mr Fothergill said he was “painfully aware” of the funding issues confronting the council and the response to the savings that were agreed in September.

He said: “In recent months we have had to make some very difficult decisions, and authorities up and down the land have been in a similar position.

“We have tried to minimise the impact on the front-line prioritise support for vulnerable children and adults, and many savings have been found without reducing the support that people received – with actual reductions to service of less than £5m. But that is still very tough, there will be some impacts and I have every sympathy with anyone who has or will be affected.

“People have to remember – we are not legally allowed to overspend. We have to, by law, have a balanced budget and with falling funding and rising demand that has meant saving in the region of £13m over the last eight years.

“I will continue to lobby for appropriate funding for local authorities – funding that takes account of the raising demand, particularly in children’s and adults services.”

Stop Somerset Cuts will be sending cards to Mr Fothergill between December 10 and 14.

Here are some of the designs: