MP Ian Liddell-Grainger has hit out at the ‘total disaster’ of Somerset’s new unitary council, which is on the brink of bankruptcy with an estimated £100 million budget black hole just six months after it was created.
The council was expected on Wednesday (November 8) to declare an immediate ‘financial emergency’ and has been told it may have to issue a Section 114 ‘bankruptcy’ declaration next February.
Mr Liddell-Grainger currently represents West Somerset and will be the Conservative candidate in a new constituency taking in parts of Mid Devon around Wellington at the next General Election.
He said the council’s crisis underlined the ‘huge mistake’ of replacing Somerset’s four districts and county authority by a single one.
Mr Liddell-Grainger said: “Those of us who had misgivings about a unitary authority were effectively shouted down.
“The former county council leader, David Fothergill, promoted what he claimed to be a cast-iron case for unitary control.
“We were sold a vision of £18 million a year cost savings being made on local government in Somerset by eliminating duplication and streamlining services.
“That turned out to be a mirage.
“Here we are just six months down the line staring into a financial abyss which is going to have implications for every single family in the county.”
Mr Liddell-Grainger said the council needed to examine all possible options, including disposing of some or all of its £220 million property portfolio, to avoid having to issue a section 114 notice which could lead to the Government sending in commissioners to run it.
He said: “But the bottom line in all this is that Somerset taxpayers would have been better off with five councils running the county.
“The county council may still have faced the same financial headache over social care costs but at least the four districts would have continued functioning and providing other services.
“As things stand, every single area of local authority activity in the county stands to be severely impacted by this debacle.”