Council tax could rise to meet £86.3million target

PUBLISHED: 13:00 17 September 2012

Archant

PUBLIC services such as street cleaning, youth provision, public toilets and libraries in North Somerset could disappear, with the council now having to save £86.3million over the next seven years.

All but the most vital North Somerset Council services could be axed or severely streamlined as a result of the radical new savings target, while council tax hikes of up to 10 per cent could be needed to meet the shortfall.

The figures, revealed to councillors at two meetings this week, led Liberal Democrat councillor Mike Bell to say: “I am really concerned that we are seeing the slow death of local government as we have always known it.

“Local services which we have always valued and supported will disappear or end up being delivered by the private sector or in a way which is unrecognisable from their origins.”

Labour representative Richard Tucker added: “We’ve known that there were going to be changes to the way the council was financed, but the extent of the figures is shocking.

“There are tough times ahead – even four or five years ago the council was saying that it had to make savings every year but it certainly was never on this scale.”

The rebudgeting is mainly a result of the continuing Government austerity programme and planned changes to the way local government is allocated money.

Previously, North Somerset Council has said it needed to save £47.3million from 2011/12 to 2014/15 – the equivalent of saving £1 for every £3 spent.

That figure has now risen to £1.50 for every £3 as a result of the continuing Government austerity diktat and local government finance changes, including the New Homes Bonus and the business rates redistribution.

Finding the extra savings will begin next year – the authority’s saving target for 2013/14 was originally £6.3million but that will now more than double to £13.3million.

With the council already working hard to find savings across the board, it is likely that every service will be affected.

Although the authority must maintain essential adult social care, children’s services and environmental services such as highways and rubbish, the amount it will have to spend on other services will shrink or could disappear altogether.

Saying the situation was largely not the fault of the current North Somerset administration, Cllr Bell said the actions of the financial sector and the previous Government were to blame.

But he added: “The relatively low council tax we pay here and the fact that the Tories have frozen or kept tax rises low under [council leader] Nigel Ashton has not helped.

“This has reduced our base budget by millions and could not now be reversed without a sudden 10 per cent or more tax rise.

“Short-sighted policies like this locally over the last five years have made things even worse.”

Cllr Ashton said the council had been planning ahead to mitigate the impact of the new cuts, but added: “There is no doubt these additional enforced savings will have a serious effect on local services.”

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