NEARLY 50 senior officers at Somerset Council have been made redundant as the council takes steps to prevent bankruptcy by trimming its wage bill.

As part of the long transition from five councils to one unitary authority, Somerset Council is undergoing a transformation programme, designed to streamline the delivery of core services and prevent unnecessary duplication.

After setting its annual budget in February, the council launched a voluntary redundancy programme in early-March, warning that more than 1,000 council staff from across the county could lose their jobs in the following three years in a bid to cut the annual wage bill by £40m.

The full council voted on May 22 to approve 49 redundancy payments for departing senior officers, with a total of 201 staff departing the council during this phase of transformation at a one-off cost of more than £12.8m.

The council said that this decision would save £9m a year thereafter and the level of redundancy pay was appropriate for the years of service these officers had provided.

Under the council’s constitution, any financial settlement of £100,000 or more paid to an individual (for instance, due to redundancy or a severance package) must be approved by the full council.

A total of 201 existing employees successfully applied for voluntary redundancy before the scheme closed on March 24, which will save the council more than £9.4m a year in salary and pension contributions.

The 49 senior officers who will be leaving as part of this process will save the council more than £2.9m a year.

Somerset County Gazette: County Hall in Taunton.County Hall in Taunton. (Image: Daniel Mumby)

Among those to depart are the council’s executive director for resources and corporate services (who also serves as its chief financial officer), its executive director for public health, two of its housing specialists, its licensing and fraud manager and its empty properties manager.

The cost of all 201 voluntary redundancies comes to £12,842,000, which will be paid through a ‘capitalisation directive’ (a form of loan) provided by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, with the amount being repaid within two years.

The redundancy payments for the senior officers will cost the council more than £7.4m – with the outgoing executive director for resources and corporate services alone receiving more than half a million pounds.

These redundancies follow an early wave of 29 redundancies which were approved in May 2023 before the voluntary redundancy programme had been instituted.

Councillor Mandy Chilcott raised concerns about the loss of the council’s chief financial officer Jason Vaughan (also known as a Section 151 officer) when the proposals came before the full council in Bridgwater on May 22.

She said: “Every member of staff is valued by the organisation, and I wish them well.

“For me, this is the wrong time to do this given the position we are in.

“We need a Section 151 officer absolutely in the centre of things, with the power to be there for the financial decision-making.”

Duncan Sharkey, the council’s chief executive, replied: “The future 151 officer will still be at the top table. They will still be part of the senior leadership team.

“There is a need to have their voice in the room. There will be continuity in terms of having someone qualified in that role.”

Councillor Federica Smith-Roberts, portfolio holder for communities, housing and culture, said: “For me this is a sad day. These are great people who do great things for the local community.

“We are being put here in the position that we are due to central government not funding us [adequately].”

Speaking before the full council meeting, council leader Bill Revans said: “We had to make many difficult and heart-breaking decisions to set our budget this year, and that included plans for a top-to-bottom restructure of our council.

“We have always been clear about our position and it is essential that we make the tough choices to ensure our council is financially viable.

“The financial cost is in line with the legal terms and conditions of the post holders, no more, no less.

“This is the first step and we know there will be further changes and reductions in staff numbers coming through over the next 12 months as we look to find over £40m of savings from our pay bill.”