“Somerset [Tories] blames ‘broken’ [Tory] funding system for major cuts”

Too little too late, councillors. You froze your council tax and submitted yourselves willingly (nay, enthusiastically) to austerity – now reap your “reward”. Or rather cause your voters to suffer for your blind adherence over these years to the party line.

“Youth services, learning disability support and reserves contributions will be hit under new plans approved by the council.

Savings of £13m over the remainder of this financial year and £15m in total in 2019-20 are expected to be made through the plans, ratified by the council last Monday.

The young carers service was the only area given a ‘stay of execution’ while the council discusses with the carers and the families where else they could get support, such as voluntary groups. This service could still be cut.

Council leader David Fothergill said: “This is not the biggest set of savings Somerset has faced. But it is absolutely the most difficult set of decisions we have had to consider.”

He added: “The government model for funding local authorities is broken.

“Rural councils like ours don’t get the funding they need or deserve.

“I have taken every opportunity to lobby and fight to address this, but there has been no extra funding. That is hugely disappointing.”

The council also wants to make savings in areas including winter gritting, park and ride services and funding to Citizens Advice Bureau services.

Fothergill said he would be writing to the secretary of state to ask for help before the next budget.

As reported by PF in July, the council ruled out issuing a Section 114 notice, as Northamptonshire council did earlier this year. It did say at the time it would have to make “urgent decisions” to address its financial position.

The council will be consulting on proposals for councillors and staff to take two days’ unpaid leave for the next two years. Unite union has criticised this idea, saying it was “a step too far”.

Elsewhere, Fife Council is faced with a £32m budget gap by 2022, according to a council report.

The Scottish council will have to make savings of 5% every year to plug gaps in its finances, the report put to the council’s policy and coordination committee said.

The council predicted its budget gap will rise from £9.4m in 2019-20 to £23.1m in 2020-21 and reach £32.1m in 2021-22.

The report said the biggest budget pressures faced by the council include children’s services and education (48%) and health and social care (17%).

The council has been contacted for comment.”

https://www.publicfinance.co.uk/news/2018/09/somerset-blames-broken-funding-system-major-cuts

Greater South West Local Enterprise Partnership – partnership!

Another GREAT to add to GREATER EXETER – the GREAT South West Partnership!

For this one, Dorset now holds the purse strings (thanks to Oliver Letwin?) but developer Steve Hindley still holds on to the Chairmanship. Somerset County Council seems to have lost its financial control role – hardly surprising now it’s in a financial crisis.

And all still unelected, unaccountable and non-transparent.

Rather confusingly, in one part of the press release there is a reference to high productivity in this new LEP region but then it goes on to say: “When productivity in the South West matches current levels in the South East, the region will add more than £18 billion a year to the UK economy.” Do they really expect it to overtake the south-east? They could just as well have said “when productivity in the region the region overtakes China it will add £18 trillion to the UK economy”!

“Press release from Heart of the South West, Cornwall and Isles of Scilly, and Dorset Local Enterprise Partnerships:

A campaign to highlight the South West’s economic potential and make the case for Government investment on a par with other UK regions has been launched at Westminster.

An alliance of business leaders, local authorities and higher education chiefs formally launched its Great South West vision that aims to put the South West on the UK economic map, to Parliament.

The delegation of the Heart of the South West, Dorset and Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly LEPs (Local Enterprise Partnerships) were in London to promote the South West’s economic development ambitions.

They are calling on the government to give their vision for growth the same high-profile backing as other initiatives like the Northern Powerhouse and the Midlands Engine.

Great South West Partnership Chair & Chair of the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership, Steve Hindley CBE DL said: “The Great South West already has an economy twice the size of Greater Manchester’s and the West Midlands’. We have the largest building project in Europe underway at Hinkley Point C, as well as unrivalled natural assets that attract more visitors than anywhere outside London.

“This partnership stands out from the other UK public-led economic partnerships, as ours heavily backed by the business and university sector, and by working together we have the benefit of scale that gives us the chance to really show what we can do, given the right backing from Government.

“We’re now on the verge transformational growth in productivity, and we’re looking forward to realising our full potential and increasing our contribution to the UK economy on the back of increasing the prosperity of our local communities and businesses.”

Mark Duddridge, Chair of the Cornwall & Isles of Scilly LEP, said: “The government’s recent review of LEPs acknowledged their vital role in developing ambitious strategies for growth and driving investment and job creation.

“The Great South West is about cross-LEP collaboration on a shared agenda, such as transport and infrastructure that can deliver real growth in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly as well as the wider South West.”

Dorset LEP Chair, Jim Stewart, said: “The South West economy is nationally significant and is larger than any combined authority – double the size of both Greater Manchester and West Midlands.

“Yet we are not receiving the same financial investment from the government as these regions.

“Our Great South West alliance of regional business leaders, academic heads and local authorities is determined to win backing for our plans that will put the region on the economic map.”

In July a government review of LEPs said the partnerships played a crucial role in ‘supercharging’ economic growth and the delivery of its Industrial Strategy.

Representatives from the three LEPs met with South West’s MPs at a meeting in Westminster to launch Great South West.

The MPs received a presentation, which set out the economic significance of the region.

In addition to having double the size economy of Greater Manchester and West Midlands, Great South West also contributes more to UK Gross Value Added than both Thames Gateway and Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford corridor.

It also has a bigger productivity than both the Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Engine but lags behind the English average.

When productivity in the South West matches current levels in the South East, the region will add more than £18 billion a year to the UK economy.

In addition, the South West is home to the single largest infrastructure project in Europe – the new Hinkley Point nuclear power plant in Somerset, which will generate billions of pounds worth of new business opportunities.

Tourism is a huge industry, with the region attracting more visitors than anywhere outside London.

And the region is also home to the largest aerospace sector in the UK, with pioneering automotive, nuclear and marine renewables and microelectronics industries. It also has a growing creative and digital sector.

Dorset West MP Sir Oliver Letwin worked with the LEPs on arranging the meeting with members of Parliament. He said: “This meeting provided a great opportunity for south west MPs to be properly briefed about this exciting proposition, which could grow to deliver a significant step-change in productivity for the south west.

“It is highly encouraging to see the diversity and number of stakeholders, even at this early stage – with Local Enterprise Partnerships, local authorities, universities, the CBI, Chambers of Commerce and many others all involved in the Great South West project.

“I hope that this project can continue to move forward with ever increasing momentum, and to help further realise the extraordinary economic potential of the South West.”

The Great South West partnership faces a number of challenges, including transport and connectivity, large dispersed populations and some of the country’s most deprived areas. This results in low productivity.

To tackle these challenges Great South West is calling the government to support it to improve transport connectivity and strategic routes, drive productivity in trade and build supply chains and increase economic connectivity in the rural sector.

A letter has been sent to James Brokenshire MP, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, to seek formal government support and investment for Great South West.”

https://heartofswlep.co.uk/news/great-south-west-set-rival-northern-powerhouse-midlands-engine/

Devon County Council to overspend [be underfunded] by £8.7m

Bit late to lay blame, Phil!

“… The council’s chief executive Phil Norrey said that he despaired at the lack of understanding [of] the treasury and that the cake that they were providing was just too small. …”

https://www.devonlive.com/news/devon-news/budget-overspend-forecast-devon-blamed-2005218

“‘Lost for words’: Somerset cuts £28m of help for most vulnerable”

Owl says: had the council raised council taxes by the cost of living in each of the years they boasted about freezing it AND making cuts at the same time ALL of the shortfall would have been covered – and more. They would have raised £114m whereas current cuts required immediately are £28 million. And all to pretend to voters that they were being very, very clever when they were being very, very stupid.

East Devon District Council operated with the same “freeze, cut and boast” throughout those years too. Though interestingly, one thing they don’t seem to have cut is staffing levels …..

Tory council latest casualty of drastic austerity measures imposed on local government:

“On Wednesday, the eight-person cabinet of Somerset county council voted through £28m of spending cuts, spread over the next two years. Over the previous six months, speculation had raged over whether Somerset would become the next Conservative-run council to join Northamptonshire in effectively going bankrupt and calling in government commissioners to sort out its mess.

And here was the answer, delivered at not much more than a week’s notice. To avoid a final disastrous plunge into the red, there would be a hacking-down of help for vulnerable families and children with special educational needs, youth services, road-gritting, flood prevention, and much more.

The proceedings took place at Shire Hall, a mock-Gothic Victorian edifice in Taunton, Somerset’s county town. An hour before they started, around 80 people had gathered to protest, chanting a slogan apparently dreamed up by the local branch of the public sector union Unison: “Don’t let the eight decide our fate.” Among the quieter participants in the protest were women who work on the county’s GetSet programme, which helps some of the county’s most vulnerable children and families. Around 70 of them are set to lose their jobs.

For fear of getting in trouble, they insisted on speaking anonymously. “There’ll be no early help,” one of them told me. “Families won’t get any attention now until they’re in crisis.”

“I’m lost for words,” said one of her colleagues. “I don’t know what to say, really. We’ve kind of been expecting this for years, but at the same time, you think, ‘Surely it won’t happen.’” They said they were expecting the finer details of the cuts’ implications to emerge in the coming days.

This is proving to be the year when the drastic austerity imposed on councils over the last eight years reaches a critical point. England’s Labour-run cities are faced with economies that stretch into the future. Back in February, Northamptonshire hit a financial wall, and issued a Section 114 notice, banning expenditure on all services outside its statutory obligations to safeguard vulnerable people. As well as Somerset, councils in Norfolk, Lancashire and East Sussex were soon said to be in danger of going the same way.

Each of these councils has its own story, but there are two common threads: they are Tory-run, and their financial problems are often ramped up by the needs of populations spread over large areas. Somerset, which covers 1,640 square miles, is a case in point and, like many English counties, its outward appearance belies its social realities.

Articles in Sunday magazines might suggest the county is now the preserve of farmers and recently-arrived hipsters. But its three largest towns are Taunton, Yeovil and Bridgwater: post-industrial, hardscrabble places which contain 19 council wards in the 20% of English areas classed as the most deprived, and whose social fabric has already been drastically damaged by austerity.

Inside the council chamber, the debate occasionally flared into anger, intensified by the fact members of the public had been given only 48 hours to read 600 pages of documents before submitting questions.

Labour and Liberal Democrat councillors repeatedly brought up the fact that between 2009 and 2016, Somerset’s ruling Conservatives had imposed a freeze on council tax, when an increase of 1.9% would have brought in an additional £114m. There were mentions of Somerset’s recent record on children’s services and the fact that in 2013, inspectors from Ofsted gave its work the lowest rating of “inadequate”, a verdict it says it has been trying to address since.

There was also talk about what was going on at the highest levels of the administration. In April, the council’s finance director departed after 31 years, and reportedly took a job at a donkey sanctuary; his temporary replacement is said to be costing the council nearly £1,000 a day.

Legally, all councils have to set an annual balanced budget. In this financial year, the meeting was told, the council was facing an overspend of £11.4m. Much of this was rooted in the rising costs of children’s services, traceable in turn to a shortage of social workers, foster carers and adopters. But there were plenty of other factors at work. In the last five years, the biggest block of money Somerset receives from central government, the so-called revenue support grant,has fallen from around £90m to less than £9m. Next year, it will disappear completely. The county’s reserves are now down to a mere £7.8m.

Ten years ago, as George Osborne commenced the era of austerity, the council’s Tory leadership gave the impression that it was only too keen to help. These days, by contrast, most of the Conservatives trying to find a way through the mess have the wearied, put-upon look of people hanging on to an ethos of public service, but involved in something so difficult that it seems almost impossible.

This theme ran through the 20 minutes I spent talking to the council’s Tory leader, David Fothergill. He said the council’s problems had affected his health, but wouldn’t be drawn on any specifics. “This isn’t why I came into politics,” he said. “We all try to make things better, but at times, it seems like we’re making things worse to try to get there.”

Up until 2009, the council was run by the Lib Dems, which also had three of Somerset’s five MPs. Now, all of the county’s parliamentary representatives are Tories, along with 35 of its 55 councillors. As much as anything, then, this is essentially a story about the Conservative party, and the widening gap between national politicians and the local councillors whom they expect to dutifully implement many of the decisions made in Westminster and Whitehall. By way of making these tensions clear, one Somerset MP this week accused the council of being “an object lesson in waste”.

“Three or four weeks ago,” Fothergill said, “I wrote to all of the Somerset MPs, telling them what was coming. Very little has come back. Four or five days ago, I wrote saying, ‘I really need some help – we’re getting to the sticky end of this.’ And I got nothing back: no response.

“I know we’re all busy, but actually, the most important people in all this are people who live in Somerset. And I will stand up for them, and make myself very unpopular, because my job is to look after them.”

Not long after we spoke, an emailed statement from the department for housing, communities and local government arrived: “Our funding settlement gave a real terms increase in resources for local government in 2018-19. Local authorities are responsible for their own funding decisions, but over the next two years, we are providing councils with £90.7 billion to help them meet the needs of their residents. We are giving them the power to retain the growth in business rates income and are working with local government to develop a funding system for the future based on the needs of different areas.”

As Fothergill led six hours of discussion in the council chamber, his voice occasionally cracked with emotion. Early on, he announced that a £240,000 cut in help for young carers, which had prompted no end of outrage, would be deferred and reviewed. But everything else passed, and there was frequent talk of more cuts to come.

In the Shire Hall’s cavernous reception area, I spoke to Leigh Redman, one of Somerset’s three Labour councillors. “The leader of the council needs to stand up and start pointing the finger,” he said. “He should stand up and say to the government: ‘We’re bankrupt. You’ve put us in this position – now get us out of it.’”

Was he talking about setting an illegal budget, and thereby triggering the arrival of government commissioners?

“If needs be,” he said. He then paused. “I’m waxing lyrical,” he told me. He then turned and went back up the stairs to the council chamber. There were three hours and several millions pounds of cuts still to go.”

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/sep/14/lost-for-words-somerset-cuts-28m-of-help-for-most-vulnerable

“Bombshell No Deal Brexit documents show councils fear billions in lost funding and soaring poverty”

Remember, EDDC has confirmed it has done NO Brexit planning:

https://eastdevonwatch.org/2018/09/06/eddc-has-done-no-brexit-planning/

“Councils have compiled a dossier of No Deal Brexit documents which warn that thousands could be left destitute in communities across the country.

Local authorities fear they may be left “unable to effectively support local communities” but they warn that the Government is failing to heed the warnings.

They say that a post Brexit downturn could see businesses up and down the country go bust.

While a series of major investment proposals have been put on hold due to Brexit.

A number of councils suggested Brexit will make desperately needed regeneration projects “unviable”.

Strikingly some of the most stark warnings come from areas which voted to Leave.

Fenland District Council rank the risk associated with a no deal Brexit on the same level as that of a natural disaster.

The area in the East of England depends on unskilled labour from Eastern Europe and 70% of people living there voted to Leave.

It produced a corporate risk register in June which gave the risk of failing to take action to prepare for Brexit a score of 25/25.

That rating is reserved for items with the potential for “catastrophic impact” and equal to the threat posed by a natural disaster.

Hackney Council raised concerns over the impact of Brexit on local job growth, with one local business claiming Brexit had “traumatised our office and the sector we cover”.

Hackney also echoed other local councils in reporting a spike in hate crimes since the 2016 referendum.

Harrow Council in London also predicted an increases in levels of poverty, homelessness and health inequalities in the Borough.

Lancashire County Council highlighted the importance of EU trade, with 62% of Lancashire’s exports (£1,876 million per year) destined for the EU market.

Around 300 councils replied to the Freedom of Information requests which were put in by campaigning group Best for Britain- making the project one of the largest bodies of research into Brexit planning undertaken so far.

Commenting on the findings, Best for Britain champion Layla Moran MP said: “These internal council documents are devastating. They show Brexit will cause tremendous damage to their ability to provide the quality public services towns and cities up and down the country so desperately need.

“The only thing scarier than these documents is the fact that some councils haven’t done them – effectively they’re walking off a cliff blindfolded.

“The finger should point directly at those extremist Brexiteers in the Tory party with a gun to the country’s head. We cannot let this sinister gang of hucksters usurp common decency and sensible politics.

“Thankfully, the fight isn’t over. We can still put a stop to this madness through a people’s vote with the option to stay in the EU. Only then will the people of this country be able to compare the devastation of Brexit – as shown in these documents – with the bespoke deal we’ve been building up over the past four decades.”

https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/politics/bombshell-no-deal-brexit-documents-13238369

“Councils in England spend £4bn on 220,000 redundancies since 2010 (and Tory Somerset County Council Leader blames Tories”

“English councils have spent almost £4bn making over 220,000 staff redundant since 2010, according to research which highlights the impact of austerity cuts on local government funding.

The north-west of England has seen the largest number of municipal jobs lost – over 41,190, followed by London (34,804), and the West Midlands (33,904), according to data obtained by the Local Government Chronicle (LGC).

Birmingham city council, the UK’s largest local authority, made by far the highest number of redundancies over the period – 8,769 – halving its workforce. As a consequence it spent the most on compensation packages (£184.8m). …

Many councils are preparing for a fresh round of cuts in a bid to stave off insolvency. Somerset county council yesterday announced it would make up to 130 staff redundant and make big cuts to children’s social care services as part of a two-year programme aimed at saving £28m.

The council, which was warned in May that its deteriorating finances put it at risk of going bust, said it was shifting to what it called a “core service offer”, meaning that it would look to deliver only those services it was legally obliged to provide.

David Fothergill, Somerset’s Tory leader, blamed the council’s position on a “broken” system of local government funding. The council had made £130m of savings over the past eight years. English councils have experienced government grant funding cut by around half since 2010.”

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/sep/13/councils-in-england-spend-4bn-on-220000-redundancies-since-2010

Council charges bereaved woman £324 for privacy space at mother’s inquest – reduced from £1000

“A bereaved woman was asked to pay more than £1,000 for the use of a room at an inquest this week into her mother’s death.

Christie Dyball is due to attend a three-day hearing at Reading town hall and requested a family room – a private space away from the courtroom – which is a standard facility at most coroners’ courts.

The inquest into the death of her mother, Anne Roberts, 68, who was detained in hospital, starts on Tuesday and will be held before a jury.

Dyball was initially told the cost of the room would be more than £1,000. After protests from her solicitor, Merry Varney, the sum was reduced to £324.

Inquests in Reading are held in the town council building because there is no dedicated coroner’s court in the area.

Dyball said: “It was a huge surprise. It’s disgraceful. What do they expect us to do? Huddle in a public corridor and discuss behind our hands with our lawyers? How can we express our feelings in private?

“It’s a shame that the council would rather keep the room empty than let us use it. It’s been a real disappointment and added to the stress. I have had to pay the £324 in advance or else lose the room.”

Dyball, who lives in north Norfolk, sought the help of her local MP, Norman Lamb, to obtain legal aid to ensure she was represented at the hearing. The Legal Aid Agency declined to pay for the family room.

Varney, a solicitor at the law firm Leigh Day, said: “This is ridiculous for such a charge to be made against a bereaved family who are there through no fault of their own.

“The response from the town hall was that it’s a commercial venture and that’s why they have to charge. It is totally unreasonable for a bereaved family member to pay a fee for a facility offered routinely to other bereaved families up and down the country when attending a loved one’s inquest.”

Inquest, the organisation that supports relatives at coroners’ courts, condemned the demand. Selen Cavcav, a caseworker, said: “Bereaved families must be at the centre of the inquest process. This cannot be achieved when they are forced to pay for a basic requirement.

“When families are expected to sit next to those who may have been involved in the care of their relative, their trauma is only exacerbated. It is essential for the family to have a private space where they can go during distressing periods and to speak to their legal representatives in confidence.”

Reading borough council said: “Family rooms are not generally requested at inquests, but where they are there is a standard charge.

“We aim to provide a sensitive service for the bereaved and we intend to do everything we can to assist the family to find an area where they can have some privacy during what will no doubt be a very difficult time, but we cannot always guarantee to have rooms routinely available. In this instance the family were given a discretionary discount on the hire of the room.”

https://www.theguardian.com/law/2018/sep/10/bereaved-woman-asked-to-pay-1000-for-private-room-at-inquest