Somerset County Council 'ignored' opposing views on cuts

Image caption, Protesters gathered outside Somerset County Council's offices

Groups opposing £34m cuts to Somerset County Council's budget have said their alternative views were ignored.

On Wednesday, the Conservative-led council voted 27 votes to 18 to approve cuts which could see 1,500 jobs lost and libraries and youth clubs close.

Liberal Democrat leader Jill Shortland said thousands of people were not listened to and petitions with over 40,000 signatures were ignored.

Council leader Ken Maddock said few viable alternatives were put forward.

Mrs Shortland said: "The Conservatives said they'd listen to everyone's ideas all the way through the process.

"The opposition as a whole - not just the Liberal Democrats - have made suggestions to save some of the cuts... but they weren't listened to."

'Awful day'

Mr Maddock said he had listened and that changes were made to proposals.

He said nine libraries instead of 20 will now face closure after protesters offered an alternative plan which would see libraries' opening times decrease.

He added that the authority had held the biggest consultation the council "had ever known" which received more than 11,000 responses.

The authority had its government grant decrease by £27m. It has a revenue budget of just over £300m.

Union members of the council's 10,000 staff (which includes those that work for the council in schools) have voted to take industrial action against the cuts.

Mrs Shortland said: "The funding cuts aren't as bad as they're making out and we know they don't have to do these things.

"They're cutting services because they want to. Despite all the things they say about not wanting to, it's just not the case."

Ralph Lister, from Take Art, handed in a 7,000-signature petition opposing the council's decision to cut cash to 10 arts groups.

"We were putting forward a very reasonable case and we feel that local public opinion was with us. It's a very sad day for the arts and a very sad day for local democracy," said Mr Lister.

The Lib Dems had put in amendments to the budget which would have seen delaying the closing of libraries and youth clubs by a year so that communities could find alternative ways of keeping them open.

They said it would have been paid for by saving £15m which had been earmarked for redundancy payments.

The Conservatives said libraries would not close until October which should be enough time for alternatives to be arranged.

Mr Maddock said: "Why on earth would we do nasty things to people if we didn't have to? It's absolutely unavoidable.

"They think they know better than independent finance officers.

"These expert officers tell it like it is and it's there in black and white in our budget, £34m of savings for next year alone. No amount of political posturing can disguise that.

"I'm really sorry for the anxiety caused but we've been sweeping this under the carpet for too long. It is very unpleasant but it absolutely has to be faced."

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