CCTV services could be saved – but jobs set to go at Somerset Council

CCTV services could be saved from cuts as Somerset looks to cut a £100 million funding deficit – but jobs are set to go.

In November last year, Somerset Council declared a financial emergency amid the blackhole as it prepares to debate the 2024/25 county budget.

Among steps proposed to tackle the issue were cuts to CCTV services provided by the council, as well as the selling off of assets and a 10% rise in council tax.

Now, the council has said a number of town councils are stepping up to protect CCTV services, while Yeovil Recreation Ground could be devolved to the town council, who would then be responsible for maintenance costs.

However, papers released ahead of a February 7 meeting of the council’s Executive to discuss the plans, also give details of the approach to “create a leaner, more productive organisation and reduce the size of the workforce”.

Redundancies would be made at the council, the papers said, with other roles – such as vacant posts – being removed; reducing the number of agency workers, interims and consultants; and by opening a voluntary redundancy scheme.

It comes after potential cuts to recycling centres, as well as the 10% council tax increase, were revealed.

Council leader Bill Revans (Lib Dem, North Petherton) said: “We’ve been fully open about our financial emergency and have sought to raise awareness of the broken system of local government funding, where costs for statutory services like social care are rising much faster than our ability to raise income.

“Meanwhile, we have been exploring every option and working proactively to find alternative ways to run services which we can no longer afford.

“I’m pleased to see the updates to proposals around CCTV and Yeovil Rec and hope many other services will be protected by working in partnership with our excellent communities and their city, town and parish councils.”

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READ MORE: Somerset faces 10% council tax rise and recycling centre closures to save money

To balance the books, the council will also be asked to approve a capitalisation direction, where money is borrowed, or assets sold, to fund day-to-day running costs.

Reserves and capital funds can only be used once, so in future years, the council will need to “significantly reduce” its budget through a transformation programme.

Cllr Revans added: “This is not a position any of us would want to be in but sadly this national problem will have very real impacts on local people, including our hard-working staff.

“We are having to look at every option and it is clear we need to reduce our budget to ensure the council is sustainable for the long term.

“I do not believe there is an alternative. If both requests are rejected by Government then a Section 114 notice (effectiively declaring bankruptcy) will be inevitable.

Cllr Bill Revans, leader of Somerset Council

Cllr Bill Revans, leader of Somerset Council

“This simply means well-paid commissioners would come in and cut all non-statutory services, regardless of impact, impose a more drastic reduction in our staff numbers, while raising council tax and other fees even more than we are proposing.

“We are doing everything we can to minimise the impact on our residents by taking the responsibility here in Somerset.”

Meanwhile, the public is being urged to take part in the budget-setting process by attending Scrutiny Committee on Friday (February 2), the Executive (February 7) and the Full Council (February 20) either in person or online to gain a deeper knowledge on the issues.

For the Scrutiny Committee and Full Council gatherings, The Canalside venue in Bridgwater has been booked due the high volume of interest anticipated.

Meeting timings have also been extended to ensure a 45-minute Public Question Time can be accommodated.
Up to nine people can speak, in person, at the meetings, having three minutes, and a maximum of three questions each. All questions and responses will be published on the council’s website.

For those unable to attend in person, all three budget meetings will be held live on MS Teams – including Full Council on February 20, with the recordings available on YouTube shortly afterwards.

The council’s call for public participation follows the closure of the recent Budget Consultation, which attracted almost 6,000 comments.

Cllr Revans said: “The public consultation demonstrated there’s real appetite out there for people to come forward and get involved.

“We want people to keep talking to us so we can hear what they have to say about their priorities and where they think we could make savings. This will help us make the right decisions, no matter how difficult.”

If you wish to speak or ask a question about any matter on the agenda at upcoming meetings, contact Democratic Services during office hours (before 5pm), at least three clear working days before the meeting. Email or telephone 01823 357628, including your full name, address and contact details.

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I am the editor in chief of Blackmore Vale media, which includes the New Blackmore Vale, New Stour & Avon, Salisbury & Avon Gazette and the Purbeck Gazette, having been a reporter for some 20 years. In my spare time, I am a festival lover, with a particular focus on Glastonbury. I live in Somerset with my wife and two children.