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Future of West Somerset Council in doubt
FEARS that West Somerset Council will not be able to emerge from serious financial problems mean its future has been called into question.
A report published by the Local Government Association (LGA) highlighted potential government cuts to local authorities and the inability of making sufficient savings as serious threats to its survival.
Recommendations include a review of staffing levels and structures, cutting non-statutory services, completing the sale of the former leisure centre site and sharing services with other councils in the area.
But it seems these will not be enough to save the council long-term, especially as people would not be expected to agree to a 39% council tax rise should a costly referendum be held.
Cllr Neil Clarke and Michael Coughlin of the LGA, who led the report, said: “In our view the situation that West Somerset Council finds itself in is without precedent. Therefore, there is no established measure or definition of the viability of a council and no process nationally prescribed to deal with such a situation.
“Were the council over the next two years to make the full range of savings suggested, we believe that it could continue to provide a viable organisation serving the people of West Somerset.
“However, we conclude that the council is not viable as a unit of local democracy and governance over the longer term.”
The council's budget deficit is expected to increase by more than £110,000 a year, with a total deficit of £1.28million by 2016.
Cllr Tim Taylor, leader of the council, said: “I feel that West Somerset Council is viable in the short term but there is a question over the viability of the council’s core structure in the long term.
“The report recommends that the council considers achieving savings both internally within the council and externally through the sharing of services with neighbouring councils and this will be explored further.
“We will take the LGA recommendations very seriously indeed. Much will still depend on the level of government funding over the following years.
“We will continue to make the case for West Somerset Council to receive an annual income per head of its population, which at least matches that of other Somerset district councils, so that we are able to provide services at a similar level.
“Perhaps the most challenging statement in the report is ‘we conclude that the council is not viable as a unit of local democracy and governance over the longer term’.
“We will be therefore considering all our options and councillors will be debating the report at a meeting of full council on December 12.
"This has come as no surprise and the council has been alerting government ministers and others if its precarious financial situation since 2008. We have been working in partnership with other local authorities to try and reduce costs for some considerable time.
“Finally, I would like to thank the LGA and other partner councils for their help and assistance.”