THE leader of Somerset Council has written an open letter to the county’s residents after the authority declared a financial emergency.

Cllr Bill Revans said “the council has a projected overspend of more than £27million in the current year, and a budget gap of £100million for next year” and added that “these are largely due to increasing costs of the social care services”.

Mentioning the factors that impacted the council’s financial position, he listed

• Covid 

• The war in Ukraine

• Inflation moving to double figures

• The short and disastrous period of the September 2022 Truss budget which led to soaring interest rates after historic low rates from 2010 to 2022

• Increased costs of placements and transport in children’s services and education, and

• Increases in homelessness and consequent costs to the council caused by increasing rents and mortgages.

“These have all changed the financial landscape of this country, especially Somerset,” the leader of the council said and added: “The previous Conservative administration of Somerset County Council took the ideological position to freeze council tax for six years between 2010 and 2016.

“This has stripped more than £200 million pounds from the council budget since and continues to have an effect every year. This is a hugely detrimental factor in Somerset’s situation.”

“Liberal Democrats opposed the Government’s decision to impose one unitary council on Somerset. “We have inherited that business case, and are making good progress on the savings identified.

“However, those savings will be nowhere near sufficient to deal with the forecast £100 million deficit, so we will need to find considerable savings this year, and in the years to come.”

David Fothergill, leader of the opposition at Somerset Council, said: “As Conservatives, we believe that taxpayers are the best judges of how their money should be spent.

“This means only collecting taxes that are essential to delivering public services and not a penny more.

"Between 2009 and 2022 (when Conservatives ran the County Council) we gratefully accepted the additional funding from the LibDem/Conservative coalition government which replaced the need to increase council tax.

“We were able to deliver a balanced budget with minimal tax rises for our residents for our remaining time looking after the county’s finances – a record for which I am proud.

“As a leader, I have always addressed the challenges that present themselves, rather than wistful reminiscing of what has gone before – otherwise the distraction of the staggering Lib Dem £350 million debt chalked up by their previous administration and its mind-blowing interest payments, could have derailed our effective delivery of the services Somerset needed.

“Since taking the reins in May 2022, this administration has dithered and delayed in taking action to address the challenges we have seen coming for a number of years.

“We left the council reserves in a comfortable position to face these challenges, but it is wrong to suggest that hundreds of millions of pounds, that were surplus to requirements, should have been taken from Somerset residents in unnecessary taxes.

“The move to a unitary model, which was actually supported in the alternative Lib Dem-led business case, presented a fantastic opportunity but unfortunately has been squandered by a lack of focus, momentum, and willingness to take difficult decisions.

“What is important now is that the current administration takes a grip of the situation rather than just talking, blaming, and avoiding decisions. Somerset deserves better.”