BRIDGWATER Town Council has had to raid its reserves to balance its books, just weeks after agreeing to take on more public services.

The town council signed an “historic” devolution deal with Somerset Council in early-May, agreeing to run a huge swathe of local services out of its portion of the council tax precept.

After this deal was formalised, the town council found “an error in its budget software”, which revealed that it would end up overspending on all its new responsibilities by £420,000 in the current year.

To plug this gap, the town council will be using its reserves, making savings from other budgets and attempting to generate more income.

Under the devolution deal, the following services and assets are now the responsibility of Bridgwater Town Council:

  • Public green spaces – namely Blake Gardens, Coronation Park, Cranleigh Gardens, Eastover Park, King Square, Mansfield Park, St. Matthew’s Field (plus the associated fair) and Victoria Park
  • Market rights and on-street trading concessions (including the West Street market, which forms part of the annual Bridgwater Fair)
  • The Rollercoaster community building
  • The South Bridgwater Pantry
  • The Northgate Docks and associated public realm (as of the completion of the Bridgwater town deal regeneration scheme in by 2026)
  • Street cleaning, including highway channels, road sweeping, drain jetting and gully cleansing, and litter removal from verges
  • Fly-tipping
  • Provision and collection of litter bins and dog waste bins
  • Clean-up after the annual Bridgwater Carnival
  • Bedding planting
  • Management and maintenance of open spaces assets – including green spaces as well as ‘hard’ open spaces and more than 1,800 trees
  • Grass cutting and open spaces management
  • Grass cutting in the Wembdon Road closed cemetery and the St Mary’s closed churchyard (though the maintenance of paths and walls will still rest with Somerset Council)
  • 26 play parks across the town
  • Filling grit bins during the winter
  • Grass cutting, weed treatment and clearing roadside verges, including on public rights of way
  • Maintaining and cleaning non-illuminated signs (e.g. road signs)
  • Minor highways repairs, including pavements and footpaths, and path safety inspections
  • A contribution towards school crossing patrols at Westover Green, Hamp Nursery and Infants’ School, and St. John & St. Francis Church School
  • The Blake Gardens public toilets
  • Local tourism
  • Local economic development

Other services, such as children’s services, adult social care and kerbside waste collections, remain the responsibility of Somerset Council.

In a statement released on Tuesday evening (June 4), the town council sought to reassure residents that there would be “no disruption to service delivery” as a result of the error being discovered.

A spokesman said: “We have taken over host of service delivery in Bridgwater over the last few months in a joint deal that will ensure much-valued facilities continue for residents.

“We have identified an error in our budget software, and certain costs are projected to exceed budgeted amounts in the 2024/25 financial year.

“We would like to reassure its residents that the current budget is sustainable and there is no threat to service delivery.

“The overspend of £420,000 will be managed by using a mixture of reserves, increased income generation and savings within other budget headings.”