County council ‘no longer in financial crisis’, says leader

Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Somerset County Council is no longer facing a financial crisis, according to its leader.

The authority - like many across the country - has been forced to shave millions of pounds off its budgets through efficiency savings and service cuts.

But for the next financial year it believes it can set a balanced budget without the need for more cuts.

Cllr David Fothergill said: "We no longer have a financial crisis and are on our way to the financial stability all local authorities are striving for.

"To be looking to the next financial year without the shadow of additional savings is truly remarkable."

Community services have borne the brunt, with Highbridge Library's closure at the end of last December just one example of savings made.

But the council has put a three-year strategy in place to try to increase revenues.

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Cllr Fothergill said: "The pressure on local authority finances have been huge in recent years and, like many councils, we have been through some very tough times.

"This turnaround reflects the hard work of our staff, partners and communities - it is really humbling to be in this position and testament to how far we have come.

"But we must be cautious, too much of this authority's funding is uncertain and we need to strengthen reserves and make measured investment to improve lives."

An independent auditor praised the council for its improving financial position in the autumn.

The strides taken saw Somerset County Council appear in a list of the top-10 authorities for improvements in November.

The Impower verdict pleases Cllr Fothergill.

He said: "We are doing great work to improve lives but could do so much more if Somerset received the right level and certainty of funding to deliver services now and plan and invest for the long-term.

"Our lobbying on that front will be robust and relentless."

Although the council is on track for a balanced budget for the 2020/21 financial year, it needs to find estimated savings of £9.5million for the two following financial years.

Areas for those financial savings will be identified in the months ahead.