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Parliament discuss Somerset Council tax rise proposals

County Hall in Taunton, Somerset, seen from the outside
A wide range of cuts are being proposed as Somerset Council attempts to close a budget deficit

A county's council tax could be set to rise by 10% as the authority declare a "financial emergency".

The budget crisis facing Somerset Council was debated by MPs in Parliament earlier today.

The local authority is proposing a wide range of cuts, including halting funding for CCTV and reducing investment in parks and highways.

The council hope to hear back by 5 February if its council tax rise is to be permitted.

The ruling Liberal Democrat administration has warned that within months, it could be forced to effectively declare itself bankrupt.

The proposed council tax rise is just one of the motions unveiled by Somerset Council to try and mitigate the budget deficit.

However, the local authority needs special permission from the government to do this, as it is twice the maximum rise usually allowed.

Marcus Fysh sitting down with a bookshelf in the background
The debate at Westminster was organised by Conservative MP Marcus Fysh of Yeovil

But there was criticism earlier today from Conservative MPs, who say the council is to blame for the severity of the situation.

MP Marcus Fysh, who represents Yeovil, referred to last year's merger of the county and four district councils, that was meant to save £18m a year.

"We cannot get away from the fact that the current Liberal Democrat administration hasn't taken the decisions," he said.

"It hasn't done the things according to the business plan that had been set out, to make the changes that were necessary to keep the council's finances on an even keel."

Sarah Dyke standing at a lectern giving a speech
Until her election to represent Somerton and Frome last summer, Sarah Dyke was part of the council's ruling administration

Also attending the debate was the Liberal Democrat MP Sarah Dyke, who blamed the current financial challenges on a combination of reduced government funding and the increased cost of providing social services.

"There's huge issues which have been ongoing for a long time now in Somerset," she said.

"But the issues that we also have to deal with now- inflation, interest rate rises and the huge issue of an ageing population- are making that much, much more difficult."

Local government minister Simon Hoare rounded off the debate by acknowledging the ongoing discussions within the council, but criticised how the county's local government merger had been handled.

"For reasons which my officials and I continue to explore, those savings have not manifested themselves. The steam has fallen out of the engine of change," he added.

The whole council will meet on 20 February to set its budget - and hear whether enough has been done to prevent financial failure.


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