Sharp rise in spending on children's and adult's services under new Somerset County Council budget

By Tim Lethaby

21st Jan 2022 | Local News

Somerset County Council's Headquarters At County Hall In Taunton. CREDIT: Daniel Mumby. Free to use for all BBC wire partners.
Somerset County Council's Headquarters At County Hall In Taunton. CREDIT: Daniel Mumby. Free to use for all BBC wire partners.

Children's services and adult social care in Somerset will receive a big financial boost in the last 12 months before the new unitary council takes control.

Somerset County Council has published details of what will be its final annual budget before it and the four district councils are formally replaced by the new unitary authority in April 2023.

For residents, council tax bills will rise by just under three per cent, of which one per cent will be ring-fenced for adult social care.

The proposals will now be studied in detail by the council's three scrutiny committees before the full council meets on February 23.

Details of the proposals were published ahead of a meeting of the council's cabinet in Taunton on Wednesday morning (January 19).

Under the proposals, the council will spend an additional £18M on adult social care up to April 2023 – a rise of 13 per cent on the previous year.

While some of this additional funding will go towards meeting additional demand for services (as Somerset's population continues to age), around £8m has been allocated purely for "provider inflation", allowing for a carers' pay rise and a retention bonus for new staff who come to work in Somerset.

Children's services – which have been under significant scrutiny from Ofsted in recent years – will see its budgets rise by around £12m – another 13 per cent increase.

More than £1m of this will go towards rising costs of transporting pupils with special educational need and disabilities (SEND) to and from school – despite new specialist schools having been recently delivered in Taunton and Bridgwater.

In addition, the council intends to allocate £48m of capital spending towards new infrastructure projects – including £24m for improvements to the Somerset road network and a further £1m for de-carbonising schools.

For a Band D property (the average), council tax bills will rise by 1.99 per cent, with a further one per cent rise for adult social care – the equivalent of an additional 78p per week, or £40.48 per year, bringing the total annual Band D bill to £1,394.

Councillor Mandy Chilcott, cabinet member for resources, said: "At a time of unprecedented pressures on council services, the hard work of officers and members of this council has created a sound financial plan, replenished reserves and outlined substantial capital investment in our county's future.

"We have enabled an environment that allows for increased investment in supporting our most vulnerable residents and preparing this county for the challenges of climate change – all while setting one of the lowest county council tax rates in the country.

"We are starting our journey towards the new unitary Somerset Council in excellent financial health and with robust reserves."

The budget proposals will be critiqued by each of the council's three scrutiny committees over the coming weeks before coming before the full council for approval on February 23. The full council budget meeting will be live-streamed via the council's official YouTube channel.

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