IN a ‘brave’ move, Somerset County Council allowed cameras to follow a year of brutal funding cuts in a desperate attempt to save front-line services.

BBC Panorama followed the county council through council meetings where millions of pounds were slashed from the budget, to show how the lack of funding from central government was causing chaos for adult social care.

The two-part documentary explored the lives of many people around the county, going through different social care journeys.

But throughout the show, one thing was clear – there isn’t enough money for local authorities, and without dedicated families selflessly giving up their time to care for their loved ones, the already broken system would have fallen apart.

It isn’t just Somerset facing these issues, a message that was made obvious throughout, but it was our county council which agreed to the filming, while others across the country rejected the request for fears it would be an ‘exposé’.

The situation has mildly improved since the filming, but only because those difficult decisions were made by Conservative council leader David Fothergill and his fellow elected members.

Cllr Fothergill said: “I think they are a particularly tough watch. I think that anybody who watched them can not be failed to be moved by those personal stories that came through.

“I think it was a brave decision of ours to take part, I know a number of other county councils refused to do it because they feared it might be an exposé, but I think what came out, the producers were true to their words and they delivered a programme which really told the story from every angle.

“I think it was a really useful piece of programming which will stand the test of time.”

The documentary also followed Stephen Chandler, the council’s director of social care, while he dealt with the lack of funding.

Mr Chandler said: “I think it has been really powerful for bringing alive the issues in adult social care.

“They used really good examples of real people. You saw them struggle, but it wasn’t just the struggles of families, it was the staff members too. These people have a real impact on people’s lives.

“I am positive it will contribute to the growing momentum to tackle some of these issues.

Sustainably and financially the council is now in a ‘much different place’. The council has managed to get through its backlog of people waiting to be assessed for social care needs, and it has increased its use of ‘micro-providers’, who are carers working across a smaller community in more rural and hard-to-reach areas.

But a lot of the council’s finance is ‘one-off’, and government hasn’t set anything in stone for a long-term funding model.

Another set back to progress for adult social care – Brexit, a fixation Mr Chandler says is ‘frustrating’, and only four MP’s turned out to view and discuss the documentary at a Parliament screening.

But this isn’t the first time progress has been delayed, as Cllr Fothergill says it’s been the same story for decades.

He said: “Since 1999 there has been 12 green and white papers published, there has been six independent commissions, this green paper has been promised this 2017 and has been delayed five times.

“I accept that Brexit has got in the way this time around, but that’s not been the problem for the last 20 years.

“What we need is cross-party working together and focusing on it. The situation we are in now, 20 years after they started talking about it, is far worse and we can’t wait another 20 years.

“Brexit is sucking in the energy at the moment, but this is just a big a problem for all of us. We are all going to get old one day.”

In the documentary, Mr Chandler says he ‘questions the credibility’ of the government – a view which a year on has not changed.

He said: “I have seen nothing to change that view. We still have not had a green paper, no direct questions to the prime minister.

“There’s no indication of when it will change. It’s not getting the traction in government. Government doesn’t think it is important enough.

“It’s really frustrating, but Somerset County Council is fighting for it.

“It was a brave decision to let the cameras in. Sometimes you have to see bigger than your own council.

“I take my hat off to them.”

While Cllr Fothergill is shriving to keep the issue non-political, he believes all parties need to be challenged on this issue, and his criticism is one of Westminster – whatever party has been in charge.

“This is not difficult,” he said. “Other countries have solutions in place for long term funding of adult social care. We need to come up with that and put it in place.”

Cllr Fothergill ‘makes no apology’ for being a Conservative, but believes he sticks up for the people of Somerset first and foremost.

Had the council not made the cuts to its spending, it could have landed itself without a balanced budget, which would result in government taking over and cutting spending to anything that is not a statutory requirement.

But Cllr Fothergill accepts the cuts had impacts on local people.

Mr Chandler also faced brutal council meetings following the hard decision to change the way services are run.

In Wellington, he faced a heated meeting of Wellington Town Council, where heartbroken families came to discuss how the closure of Stratfield House dementia day centre would negatively impact their lives.

But Mr Chandler claims many families have since come forward and told him the changes have made improvements to their situations.

However, he accepts there will always be ‘anger and passion’ when these decisions are made, which he has to take.

He said: “We are more stable as a council.

“We made some positive changes but there will always be people that don’t agree.

“It showed just how confusing the funding can is. The last thing you need in these situations is to be thinking about who has to pay.

“People have said to me since they didn’t realise how complex it is.”

Mr Chandler questions throughout the documentary whether ‘today is the day to walk away’, as he struggles to come to terms with the funding cuts and decisions the council was force to make.

He said the year caught on camera was once of the worst of his life. But as long as he could still make a difference, he intended to stay.

“You have to think if you’re making a difference,” he added. “I have to believe that I am going to make a difference.

“If I wasn’t there, it might not have a good outcome.”

But what can be done? Both Cllr Fothergill and Mr Chandler are urging people to continue to lobby MPs to get adult social care high on the government’s agenda.

But Mr Chandler offered another bit of advice, to specifically tackle loneliness in the elderly, as was demonstrated within the TV programme.

He said: “it’s not just about funding. Check on your neighbours. If you see an older person walking towards you, don’t turn away. A lot of people’s families aren’t around, so we need to become adopted families with the people around us.”

For those who haven’t yet watched them, the Crisis In Care documentaries are available to view on BBC iPlayer.