Somerset Council is warning that it will have to draw on reserves for the second successive year to fund the rising cost of both Adult and Children’s social care.
Papers published today ahead of a meeting of the Council’s Executive next week (Sept 6) describe the council’s financial position as “stark and challenging”. The warning comes as other councils in the UK are raising concerns that their budgets are unsustainable.
The papers reveal that the Council drew £18 million from reserves last year to fund spending beyond the 2022/23 budgets in Adult and Children’s care services. The Council has a legal obligation to fund these services, which have seen an unprecedented rise in both overall demand and complexity of need since the Covid-19 pandemic.
These two social care services are currently projected to overspend by £21 million again in the current financial year. This is despite significant increases in budgets in the two previous years.
Other challenges faced by the new unitary Council include the rising cost of processing an increasing amount of household waste and the cost of refinancing loans taken out by five predecessor councils.
Cllr Liz Leyshon, Lead Member for Resources and Performance and Deputy Leader of Somerset Council said:
Obviously repeatedly using the Council’s reserves to fund day to day care services cannot continue without putting the financial viability of the council at risk.
The national problems we warned about last year have not improved, if anything they are worse. The demand on social care continues to grow and inflation and interest rates have continued to rise. We now have a clear picture of the financial legacies of the five predecessor Councils, although there is much work still to be completed by the external auditors.
The current and next two years will be particularly challenging until the benefits of transformation of services at the new Council can be realised. After a decade of neglect, the Government has to address the future of council funding and how pressures, particularly on councils with social care responsibilities, are pushing many well-run Councils towards to a Section 114 notice.
Having already taken savings from the move from five councils to one council, we now have a transformation programme that will start to produce saving in two to three years. We are working well with the local NHS on integrating our care services.
Somerset looks poised to become Britain’s green energy powerhouse with Hinkley Point C coming on stream and the proposed new gigafactory, but the next two years will be very, very difficult. The Council’s challenge will be to make sure we are in a the right place to make the most of these opportunities, while taking care of those most in need.
Cllr Leyshon added:
We know that we will have to reduce some of our services to a statutory level and no more, yet we know that when residents pay their council tax, they rightly expect their Council to support such services as sport and leisure, arts, parks, and open spaces. We also need to maximise opportunities in economic development and look after our town centres. We will review our whole capital programme to ensure that we create a Somerset Council that is sustainable in the longer term. This is a difficult task but one that we are committed to for the people of Somerset.