William Eichler 10 August 2018

Union blasts Somerset CC for ‘financial incompetence’

A union has accused Somerset County Council of ‘financial incompetence’ after the authority proposed staff take two days of unpaid leave.

The West Country council admitted last month that it may be forced to impose ‘severe spending restrictions’ in the face of a projected net overspend of £12m.

The local authority even warned it may have to issue a Section 114 notice which would halt all non-statutory spending by the council — an extraordinary measure recently taken by Northamptonshire CC.

Somerset CC has proposed that staff take two days of compulsory unpaid leave over the Christmas holidays in both 2018 and 2019 which could save £1m over the two-year period.

However, the trade union Unite said it would be advising its members to reject the plan when it is put to the workforce in a ballot next month.

‘This crisis is entirely of this Tory-controlled council’s own making,’ said Steve Preddy, the Unite acting regional secretary for the south west.

‘If it had taken the advice of its financial advisors and raised council tax in line with inflation in recent years, the budget would now be running a surplus.

‘Yet again, hardworking and dedicated council employees, who keep vital services running 24/7, 365 days a year, are being asked to bear the brunt of this council’s managerial incompetence.’

‘The actions of this authority are a wake-up call for the people of Somerset that local government as they know it is under severe threat — and the unpaid leave plan is the latest manifestation of this unpleasant direction of travel,’ he added.

A Somerset County Council spokesperson confirmed they were in dialogue with unions about the unpaid leave proposal and emphasised the authority had already made £130m in savings and efficiencies.

‘Austerity is a big challenge for local government, especially for councils with responsibility for vulnerable adults and children — which account for two-thirds of our budget — and we continue to lobby Government for fairer funding,’ they said.      

The County Councils Network (CCN) warned yesterday that county councils are facing a funding shortfall of £3.2bn over the next two years which means they will have to cut services to a minimum.

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