I have been approached by many people from Shepton Mallet and the surrounding areas to complain about the proposed cuts to Saturday bus service subsidies to and from the town. I am dismayed that cuts to the four bus services should ever have been suggested. This is another shortsighted and, frankly, unnecessary change being imposed by the County Council.
Shepton has its problems – as everywhere – but in my opinion, Shepton is actually one of the most underrated towns in the area. Councillor John Parham sits on Shepton Town Council, Mendip District Council and he also represents the town on the County Council. Somerset County Council Portfolio Holder for Transport, Harvey Siggs also sits on Mendip District Council, as does the leader of the County Council, John Osman.
Councillors pushing for these cuts all know perfectly well that this cut will be bad for Shepton. This action seems willfully to ignore the difficulties such changes would create for Shepton’s residents, employees, businesspeople, families and visitors. It can only be based on ideology, not on any real need to make savings. The County Council has over £30 million pounds of reserves in the bank, after all.
There is no minimum level that a Local Authority must hold in reserves by law. However, in this document from the National Audit Office: http://www.audit-commission.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/strikingabalance.pdf (page 26) it is suggested that ‘most chief finance officers regard an amount between 3 and 5 per cent of the council’s net spending as a prudent level for risk-based reserves – and the minimum that auditors would consider prudent.’
When I looked through Somerset’s accounts, it would seem that:
Net revenue spending = £352 million (page 49 of the accounts)
Non-earmarked reserves = £32 million (page 46 of the accounts)
So, Somerset County Council actually has double what most chief finance officers in local government consider prudent.
This money was paid by you and me through our Council Tax for services to be delivered. Those services should include such basics as support for Saturday bus services.
Shepton is a beautiful historic market town with massive potential. The main obstacle in the way should not be policies made by local Councillors based on their wish to cut services for cutting’s sake. I will continue to campaign against this ideological dismantling of our public services.
6th January 2015