THE leader of Somerset County Council says he has had many sleepless nights’ over millions of pounds in cuts to public services, which were approved at a meeting this afternoon.

Cllr David Fothergill made the admission during a meeting of the council cabinet to approve proposals to save £13million over the next eight months.

The cuts include reducing support given to young careers in the county and cutting funds to the Citizens Advice service, which fields thousands of questions from county residents.

The proposals first came to the council’s scrutiny committee on Tuesday (September 11) ahead of the cabinet meeting yesterday (Wednesday).

And the contentious plans saw two political parties draw swords against one another, in a move which one independent councillor branded ‘absolute nonsense’.

Cllr Fothergill, a Conservative, and leader of the opposition Lib Dems, Jane Lock, argued over the history of Somerset’s politics which led the council to this situation.

Cllr Lock said freezing council tax for six years left the council in this position, with Cllr Fothergill adding the borrowing from the Lib Dems also contributed to the problems.

But independent Cllr John Hunt said: “We need to stop getting at each other. The public must think it’s absolute nonsense.”

Ahead of the scrutiny debate, one member of the public, Alan Debenham, urged the leader to resign his position in the face of the cuts.

Cllr Fothergill said: “In the last 15 months I have said the funding model is broken. There’s no other option at my door and it’s no easier for us making this decision.

“Resigning would be a great disservice. We have to show leadership.

“I get sleepless nights over it. But the alternative to the cuts, or resigning and walking away, would be catastrophic.

Unions and service users turned out to protest the cuts before the full council meeting yesterday. Many were concerned about cuts to children’s and adult social care services.

One sore issue was the proposed cuts to the young careers. It was proposed to redesign the whole service in cuts one councillor labelled the ‘most brutal’.

Cllr Tessa Munt said: “Changes to young careers is the most brutal of all the cuts.

“I cannot see how this works, there should be detailed work on this.

“There’s 242K in the budget for something that is run by seven staff. It’s outrageous.”

This decision was taken out of the overall proposals for ‘further discussions’ to take place. The decision will now take place in February 2019.

Several opposition councillors criticised the lack of time which had been allowed to deliberate the proposed cuts – particularly those to children’s services, whose own scrutiny committee is not due to meet until Friday morning (September 14).

Labour Councillor Leigh Redman, the chairman of that particular committee, said his presence at Tuesday’s meeting felt like a “token gesture” and called for more time to analyse the impact of the proposals.

He said: “The council specifically set up my committee to advise cabinet because Ofsted did not think we gave children enough recognition – and here we are.

“The cabinet has reports that have been put together in a hurry and will be making their decisions based on limited advice.

“A couple of weeks will not make a massive impact. We need the cabinet to set out a process which allow for informed decision-making in this issue.”

Another part of the proposals sees council workers take two days of unpaid leave.

During Tuesday’s meeting cllr Liz Leyshon proposed an amendment which would see only those earning upwards of £50K take unpaid leave - but for two weeks. This proposal was not supported by the councillors.

The unpaid leave proposals has led to conflict with the unions, with 80 per cent of Unison South West considering the plan ‘unfair’.

Cllr Mandy Chilcott said: “We are currently consulting with the trade unions and the risks associated will be taken into account.

“The proposals for two days’ unpaid leave has been made reluctantly but it is a way of preventing further cuts and redundancies.”

She added a revised proposal will come before staff today (Thursday) with more discussions taking place over the next month.

UNISON branch secretary for Somerset, Kris Black, said: “The council should not be making decisions that have this level of impact without a full discussion.

“Much of what is being pushed through in these proposals are short-term cuts that look bad on paper but will be worse in reality.

“UNISON believes these proposals are intended to make the balance sheet work for the next year or two, but will not be sustainable. It will council workers who bear the brunt of this – both through jobs cuts and because they will be left to run potentially unsafe and failing services.”

The cabinet approved the cuts, barring those to children's services.