Somerset

Somerset County Council chief in overspending warning

Full council meeting at Taunton Rugby Club
Image caption Councillors will hear that urgent action is needed to rein in spending across all departments

The chief executive of Somerset County Council is to take "immediate" action in a bid to stabilise the authority's finances following a £22m overspend.

Pat Flaherty's comments follow a peer review of the council that found overspending and depleted reserves were a "considerable risk" to its stability.

The review found the council overspent by £22.7m on children's services and is not meeting its agreed savings targets.

The council has made about £120m savings to its budget since 2011.

'Realistic budget'

The review by the Local Government Association was handed to councillors last week.

It also said a more "realistic budget" was needed to be set for children's services, whose £22.7m overspend has happened over the past two financial years.

Children's services in Somerset have been under pressure to improve after poor Ofsted ratings in 2013 and 2015.

This led the council to recruit more social workers and its latest Ofsted rating has improved from inadequate to requires improvement.

Responding to the report, Mr Flaherty told a full council meeting in Taunton that his team was carrying out a "comprehensive review of all council budgets to see where further, sustainable savings and efficiencies can be achieved".

He added overspending departments needed to "own and take responsibility" for their spending.

Council leader, David Fothergill added: "Our three main service areas are adult social care, learning disability and children, we have 2,500 children in contact with our authority. Those three areas really do take up 70% of our budget.

"We're seeing if there are areas where we could reduce any of that spend."

Opposition councillor for finances, Liberal Democrat Liz Leyshon, said she was pleased with the review.

"There were some roses. But what we've got to remember is there are still some thorns on the roses that have got to be grasped - they're all financial considerations and it's not going to be easy."

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