UNISON members protested outside County Hall today as councillors rubber-stamped scores of redundancies and service cuts in an effort to claw back millions in savings.
The union says it is prepared to mount legal challenges against the cost-cutting proposals, which will see reductions and job cuts across an array of services from children and young people, to highways and planning.
Councillors were forced to push through £16million of cuts at the budget setting meeting after a tough Government settlement and increased demand for services left a gaping hole in the authority’s finances.
County Hall is freezing council tax this year at £1,027.30 for Band D households, but Unison have attacked that decision, arguing that a rise of 2.5% would go some way to soften the blow.
“Freezing council tax for another year just does not make sense,” said Oliver Foster-Burnell, Unison’s Somerset branch area organiser.
“Over the last four years there has been a continued freeze on staff pay, as well as on tax, yet during this time the council has shed hundreds of jobs and cut services.
“This Conservative administration is not reflecting the needs of the community, nor are they doing anything to challenge the diminishing grants given to them by the Government. “Instead of towing the party line, they could take a stance and stand up for their community, their constituents, their services and their local economy.”
The Somerset Labour Party has also condemned the scale and depth of the cuts, adding that it will be ‘demanding’ that the Conservative leadership reconsiders its priorities.
“The areas that have been hit don’t make any sense. They are cutting preventative services while having to pay for more children to be put into care,” said group leader Andrew Govier.
“They are cutting preventative services while having to pay for more children to be put into care.
“The leadership has in the past talked about how vulnerable people are their priority - if so it’s not readily apparent from the service areas where the greatest cuts fall.”
In a separate development, the council received a last minute windfall of more than £770,000 after a revision of its Government settlement revealed a miscalculation. Councillors say they will plough more than half a million pounds back into frontline services and contribute the rest towards a series of flood prevention measures.