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‘Left with no choice’: Somerset council confirms 130 jobs and major services are at risk

Somerset County Council has published plans to lose up to 130 jobs and cut major services in order to balance the books – up from the ”hugely regrettable” 100 jobs that were thought to be on the line last week, when proposals had not yet been confirmed.

The authority announced cutbacks to public transport, highways and special need services, while staff will be told to take two days of unpaid leave for the next two years – if the proposals are approved when the council’s cabinet meets later this month.

Despite making £130m in savings over the last eight years, Somerset County Council needed to find another £19.5m in 2017-18, but only made cuts of £11.1m.

If the proposals go ahead, the authority would save around £13m over the remainder of this financial year and £15m in 2019-20.

Council leader David Fothergill said that the council had reached the ”very sharp end” of continued austerity.

“Despite the huge pressures, until this point we have managed to maintain – and in key areas improve – services, but the funding we receive falls far short of the cost of the services we provide and that has to have an impact,” he explained.

“We’ve tried hard to avoid this, looked at every option open to us in terms of financial flexibility, but have been left with no choice. These proposals will be hard to deliver and difficult to stomach for anyone who works for or with this authority.”

Other proposals include reducing the winter gritting network, suspending Taunton’s Park & Ride services, cutting adult social care and support for people with learning disabilities, and reductions to the GetSet programme and support for young carers and youth services.

Cllr Fothergill added: “Nobody comes into politics to make decisions like this, but local government’s continuous lobbying for more funding simply hasn’t been heard.

“We have fantastic staff doing great work that improves the lives of residents every day, and it hurts that they will be affected by this and we will do everything we can to minimise the impacts.”

The problems facing Somerset are similar to those facing other local authorities across the country, with Oxfordshire County Council announcing last week it could cut up to 900 jobs in a bid to save £33m.

Similarly, facing a potential budget shortfall of up to £70m, Northamptonshire County Council issued its second section 114 notice, banning all spending until further notice. It will now likely be split into two unitary authorities as part of reform proposals set to be considered by central government.

Somerset County Council will meet on 12 September to deliberate over the proposals.

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