A £1 MILLION fund to fight climate change, innovation in social care, and a bid to impose a 20mph limit on all roads near Somerset schools have been announced.

The plans were unveiled by Somerset County Council yesterday (Wednesday) as it approved its key budget for next year.

In the Leader’s speech, Cllr David Fothergill set out ambitious plans that would see more than £1m made available next year for parish and town councillors to use to help combat climate change – with a commitment to find more in the following years.

This was shortly followed by the Leader’s announcement that £1.5m will be spent installing 20mph advisory zones outside around half of all Somerset’s schools with community discussion and involvement.

The budget also included £133.5m to fund infrastructure projects, including new schools and school expansions, as wells as highways and engineering.

However, the plans still see a predicted shortfall - called 'modest' by the council - of some £9.4 million over 2021/22 and 2022/23.

“This is hugely exciting and ambitious and we are taking a lead in key areas like climate change and the safety of our school children,” said Cllr Fothergill.

“We want to get decisions made at community, parish and town level where we can, and this is a bold statement of intent.”

Councillors approved a £338m budget for its services with robust financial plans in place across the next three years.

No cuts to frontline services are planned, after swinging cuts in recent years which have seen the authority's central government grant slashed, and the council administration claims it has improved its financial resilience by increasing levels of reserves.

The budget plans will see more than £775 million spent on services in the coming year and a 1.99 per cent increase in the county council’s element of the Council Tax.

The government allows a further 2 per cent increase for councils to provide Adult Social Care. The two elements together mean a total increase of 3.99 per cent – a rise of 95p per week for a Band D property.

Other authorities will look at their own elements of the Council Tax which will have an impact on total household bills.

Avon and Somerset Police have announced a £10 per year increase per average Band D property. District and parish councils are due to make their decisions shortly.

Councillors approved the budget, which included a significant £6.3m investment in social care providers.

The administration says it will help fund requirements for the increased national minimum wage for care staff, as well as ensuring high quality provision and that providers continue to be able to meet a wide range of different needs

The budget plans also include an undertaking to maintain the authority’s General Fund reserves, vital to financial stability, at the projected end-of-year figure of £19.69m across 21/22 and 22/23.

Cllr Fothergill added: “We have come a very long way from where we were less than 18 months ago.

“Over the last year I set out key objectives of ensuring this authority was on a firm financial footing with robust reserves and a plan in place to keep this momentum going over the coming years.

“This plan, thanks the hard work of so many, will not only keep us firmly on that path but it sees out so much more, with a bold vision of investment in infrastructure and services.”

Financial planning for all councils remains a challenge beyond 2020/21 due to funding uncertainties, and a 'modest' budget shortfall of £9.4m over 2021/22 and 22/23 is currently projected.

But this will be greatly influenced by the Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review due this year.