I disagree, because the situation here is that the county council has £29 million in reserves, excluding the money attached to schools, yet we have a man who wishes to put aside £15 million for redundancies, which is going to decimate the council staff, and to make cuts over three years instead of four. If he was to reschedule his debt over four years, it would be a lot less difficult for people in Somerset. Happily, as a result of campaigning by local people, three libraries have been saved: Shepton Mallet, Glastonbury and Cheddar. However, the library in Highbridge, an area that probably needs a library more than any other because there are so few facilities in that town, is still under threat.
I approached one of the Secretary of State’s Ministers because I wanted to understand. There is so much confusion among local people about what is actually involved, because there is one grant and another grant, and little bits of money get thrown back and forth in conversation, and nobody really understands what is happening. I asked the Minister in question to explain to me in simple terms the situation facing Somerset. In simple terms, this year-the year ending on 31 March-Somerset has £368 million to spend, and next year, starting on 1 April, it has £360 million. That is a difference of only £8 million in spending money, which amounts to 2%. Somerset has had a fantastic deal therefore, so I do not understand the obsession that this gentleman has. Moreover, the Government have been generous in granting £42 million in capital grants. That means we can fix the roads, which are in a shocking state, and do something about school buildings. As far as I can see, the county is £20 million better off than it ever has been, and, as I understand it, the capital grant is cash, and that £42 million is about £41 million more than anyone ever expected to have.
As far as I can see therefore, Somerset has an increase in funding from central Government, and that funding is relatively generous in the current economic circumstances. I therefore do not understand why the county council leader is going to announce a series of cuts next Wednesday. If those cuts proceed and he makes those announcements on Wednesday, I will ask the Secretary of State to give me an appointment so I can come along with the leader of Somerset county council to ask that gentleman to explain himself and his actions.