Labour risk financial future of Somerset Council by voting against crucial budget

Labour put the future of Somerset Council in jeopardy when voting against a vital budget designed to secure the immediate financial viability of the council during the Full Council meeting at Canalside in Bridgwater on February 20.

Despite being faced with immense financial pressures due to a catastrophic lack of funding to local authorities from central government and a six-year council tax freeze from the previous administration stifling revenue, the administration presented a balanced budget in 2024/25 for councillors to vote on. The budget’s approval would starve off the inevitability of issuing of a Section 114 notice and bankruptcy, a devastating prospect which would result in unelected commissioners appointed to decimate the council’s vital services in order to make extreme savings.

The budget was voted through by 52 votes to nine, with 31 abstentions.

One in five councils in England and Wales say they fear the prospect of issuing a Section 114 notice of bankruptcy, while S114 notices have already been issued for councils in Nottingham, Woking, Thurrock, Croydon and Birmingham since November 2022. Birmingham City Council had their budget set by unelected commissioners on February 19, with council tax hiked by 21%, while £300 million in savings will be required over the next two years, as services are stripped to provide residents with only those that are essential, representing the largest budget cut in local authority history.

Bill Revans, leader of the Liberal Democrat administration on Somerset Council, said councillors faced ‘a stark choice’ at the Full Council meeting and Labour’s decision to vote against the budget while ‘offering no alternatives’ represented ‘a lack of responsibility’.

“The choice for Somerset Council was stark: set a balanced budget or declare a S114 notice – bankruptcy – and have unelected government commissioners appointed to run the council,” Cllr Revans said.

“While the Liberal Democrat administration is working hard to keep Somerset Council going, the Labour group offered no alternatives and are taking no responsibility to help get through this. At a time when Somerset voices need to unite together, it’s disappointing some are seeking to divide us.”

Labour’s leader on Somerset Council, Leigh Redman, represents the Bridgwater North and Central division, and Cllr Claire Sully, the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Candidate for Bridgwater, believed Labour’s decision to oppose the ‘life-saving’ budget was reckless.

“After yesterday’s vote, it is clear that Somerset Labour do not have the best interests of our residents in mind,” Cllr Sully said.

“When faced with a clear choice to either vote through a life-saving budget, one which would see the continuation of many crucial services to residents, or risk the financial implosion of the council resulting in a decimation of services that people rely on, they chose the latter.

“Fortunately, their reckless decision to oppose the budget will not result in a Section 114 notice being issued in Somerset, thanks to the work of the Liberal Democrats.”

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