Bridgwater Town Council assures residents 'no money has been lost' following overspend reports

Somerset Council Leader Bill Revans In Blake Gardens In Bridgwater Following The Signing Of The Town's Devolution Deal. From left, Councillor Theo Butt Philip, James Presdee, Councillor Bill Revans, Councillor Tim Mander, Councillor Mick Lerry, David Mears, Councillor Kathy Pearce and Scott Mason.
-Credit: (Image: Somerset Council + Bridgwater Town Council)

A Somerset town council has reassured local residents that "no money has been lost" following reports of a projected overspend. Bridgwater Town Council signed an "historic" devolution deal with Somerset Council in early-May, agreeing to run a huge swathe of local services out of its portion of the council tax precept.

After this deal was formalised, the Labour-run town council found "an error in its budget software", which revealed that it would end up overspending on all its new responsibilities by £420,000 in the current year.

The town council has now responded that there will be "no impact on services" and only £10,000 of existing reserves will be needed to balance the books.

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Under the devolution deal, the following services and assets are now the responsibility of Bridgwater Town Council:

  • Public green spaces - namely Blake Gardens, Coronation Park, Cranleigh Gardens, Eastover Park, King Square, Mansfield Park, St. Matthew’s Field (plus the associated fair) and Victoria Park

  • Market rights and on-street trading concessions (including the West Street market, which forms part of the annual Bridgwater Fair)

  • The Rollercoaster community building

  • The South Bridgwater Pantry

  • The Northgate Docks and associated public realm (as of the completion of the Bridgwater town deal regeneration scheme in by 2026)

  • Street cleaning, including highway channels, road sweeping, drain jetting and gully cleansing, and litter removal from verges

  • Fly-tipping

  • Provision and collection of litter bins and dog waste bins

  • Clean-up after the annual Bridgwater Carnival

  • Bedding planting

  • Management and maintenance of open spaces assets – including green spaces as well as 'hard' open spaces and more than 1,800 trees

  • Grass cutting and open spaces management

  • Grass cutting in the Wembdon Road closed cemetery and the St Mary’s closed churchyard (though the maintenance of paths and walls will still rest with Somerset Council)

  • 26 play parks across the town

  • Filling grit bins during the winter

  • Grass cutting, weed treatment and clearing roadside verges, including on public rights of way

  • Maintaining and cleaning non-illuminated signs (e.g. road signs)

  • Minor highways repairs, including pavements and footpaths, and path safety inspections

  • A contribution towards school crossing patrols at Westover Green, Hamp Nursery and Infants’ School, and St. John & St. Francis Church School

  • The Blake Gardens public toilets

  • Local tourism

  • Local economic development

Other services, such as children's services, adult social care and kerbside waste collections, remain the responsibility of Somerset Council. Town council leader Brian Smedley said the budget error in question had been "a data input error by the town clerk" David Mears, which he immediately brought to the council's attention and sought to correct.

Mr Smedley said: "This human error, while manually converting our old spreadsheets to the new combined system, had led to an overestimate of income in figures with which we were presented. With careful financial management and immediate action, we have been able to ensure there will be no impact on services.

"No money has been ‘lost’, a maximum of £10,000 will be used from our substantial reserves - principally from the figure we have set aside for devolution - and we have simply slowed down the pace of transition and put some projections into next years budget instead. Considering the speed of transition, this is in fact a welcome slow down and has and will cost the taxpayer no extra than planned in the budget."

Councillor Brian Smedley (Labour, Bridgwater South)
Councillor Brian Smedley (Labour, Bridgwater South) -Credit:Sedgemoor District Council

The "data input error" was raised at a meeting of the town council's finance committee on June 3, after which the town council issued a statement to reassure local taxpayers. A spokesman stated at the time: "We have identified an error in our budget software, and certain costs are projected to exceed budgeted amounts in the 2024/25 financial year.

"We would like to reassure its residents that the current budget is sustainable and there is no threat to service delivery. This will be managed by using a mixture of reserves, increased income generation and savings within other budget headings."

Councillor Mick Lerry, who chairs the finance committee, subsequently added: "Our scrutiny of the budget shows only a £10,000 deficit which might need use of reserves. This will be put to an emergency finance meeting, with a one-item agenda, on June 24."

Bridgwater town clerk David Mears
Bridgwater town clerk David Mears -Credit:Daniel Mumby

Leigh Redman, who is standing to be Bridgwater's new Labour MP at the upcoming general election, said the initial reports of a £420,000 overspend were "typical Tory bluster". He added: "We all know that the Labour-run Bridgwater Town Council has taken the bold decision to take on a range of services that impact residents on a day-to-day basis.

"There are things we all value such as parks and open spaces, play areas, flowerbeds and hanging baskets, street cleaning, road sweeping, drain clearing, fly-tipping, litter and dog poo bins. Let’s not forget these services were at risk of stopping and most had been decimated over the last decade due to the Conservative Party’s horrific austerity policies.

"Local government has had funding reduced by more than 30 per cent in that time."

Councillor Leigh Redman (Labour, Bridgwater North and Central) at the Cross Rifles roundabout
Councillor Leigh Redman (Labour, Bridgwater North and Central) at the Cross Rifles roundabout -Credit:Daniel Mumby

The full list of candidates standing in the Bridgwater constituency is as follows:

  • Pele Barnes (Independent, a.k.a. Somerset United Party)

  • William Fagg (Reform UK)

  • Ashley Fox (Conservative)

  • Charles Graham (Green Party)

  • Leigh Redman (Labour)

  • Claire Sully (Liberal Democrat)

  • Gregory Tanner (Workers Party of Britain)