Hard-up council is 'sleepwalking' Somerset towards disaster

PUBLISHED: 11:00 07 October 2016 | UPDATED: 11:00 07 October 2016

Archant

Council leaders have been accused of 'sleepwalking' their authority into financial ruin by making 'repeated mistakes' and 'crass decisions'.

Somerset County Council has made almost £100million of savings over the past five years, but projections for the remainder of this financial year show an anticipated over-spend of £24million.

Almost every council department has spent more than it was budgeted.

Although the Tory-run authority blames Government pressure for the crisis, and insists it has a plan to bring spending down, opposition members are in little doubt about where the blame lies.

Liberal Democrat group leader Jane Lock says leaders ‘have made repeated mistakes over the last seven years’, while shadow lead on resources Sam Crabb decribes the spending projections as ‘the worst report I have ever seen’.

Cllr Crabb said: “This financial crisis has been directly caused by the crass decisions made by the Tory cabinet and over the past seven years.

“Somerset County Council is in financial intensive care and the Tories do not appear to be showing any urgency. The cabinet have shown they cannot manage a brewery, let alone a budget of £300 million a year.

“The cabinet has had no long-term thinking nor has it acted strategically, but has introduced damaging cuts in a salami-slicing way that have badly damaged valuable services, causing the death of the council by a thousand cuts.

“They are sleepwalking the county council and people of Somerset to disaster.”

The LibDems cited Tory ‘dogma’ in its refusal to raise taxes during the past six years as a key reason the authority is close to bankruptcy.

However, council leader John Osman says reduced Government funding is at the root of the authority’s cash trouble, and he plans to write to Whitehall to plead for a better deal.

He said: “This is a serious situation. Together with other local authorities we need to exert strong and collective pressure on the Government, making it clear that this cannot continue without having an impact on what we are able to do for our residents.”

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