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Somerset County Council accused of financial incompetence after staff asked to take unpaid leave

UNITE the union accused Somerset County Council today of financial incompetence after the authority proposed staff take two days’ unpaid leave over the next two Christmasses.

The council admitted last month that it may be forced to impose “severe spending restrictions” in the face of a projected net overspend of £12 million.

It even warned that it may have to issue a Section 114 notice which would stop all non-statutory spending by the council.

That would follows in the footsteps of Northamptonshire County Council, which has filed two of these self-imposed spending bans within six months.

Yesterday Northants councillors agreed to cut children’s services, road maintenance and waste management to try to plug a £70m projected budget gap.

Somerset has proposed that staff take two days of compulsory unpaid leave over the Christmas holidays this year and next year  in an attempt to claw back £1m over the two-year period.

But Unite said it would be advising its members to reject the plan when it is put to workers in a ballot next month.

Unite acting regional secretary for the south-west Steve Preddy said: “This crisis is entirely of this Tory-controlled council’s own making.

“If it had taken the advice of its financial advisers and raised council tax in line with inflation in recent years, the budget would now be running a surplus.

“Yet again, hardworking and dedicated council employees, who keep vital services running 24-7, 365 days a year, are being asked to bear the brunt of this council’s managerial incompetence.

“Since 2010, council staff, not just in Somerset, but across England, have been targeted by the Tory government with years of pay austerity. 

“And now, when Theresa May’s government has indicated that it was allegedly relaxing its attitude to public-sector pay, here in Somerset the true ugly face of Conservatism has been revealed with this move to salami-slice holidays.”

A Somerset County Council spokesman confirmed the authority was in talks with unions and added that it had already made £130m in “savings and efficiencies.”

“Austerity is a big challenge for local government, especially for councils with responsibility for vulnerable adults and children — which account for two-thirds of our budget — and we continue to lobby government for fairer funding,” he said.      

The County Councils Network warned yesterday that county authorities are facing a funding shortfall of £3.2 billion over the next two years.

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