COUNCILS across Somerset are facing unprecedented financial pressures amid swinging cuts from central government.

Here, Somerset County Councillor for Ilminster, Linda Piggott-Vijeh says we all have a part to play in addressing the situation…

IT should be no surprise to any of us that across the country local councils are in dire financial straits.

For several years central government has been busy offloading their obligations onto local authorities, sometimes with the carrot of interim funding, which soon dries up, and at other times with not a penny to fund the extra responsibility.

We have often seen these additional duties then devolved to town and parish councils, who are expected to take up the flak, or incur the wrath of the local electorate when they cannot afford to step into the breach.

As the situation has worsened, those councils hardest hit are resorting to cutting back to such an extent that they are eventually to meeting the minimum statutory requirements, and nothing more.

Hence, when facing such severe financial constraints, we find that things we have taken for granted over man years, such as leisure facilities, libraries, regular road cleaning and adequate transport are suddenly reduced or cut altogether.

Then, of course, there is an almighty outcry.

But, we have all been complicit in this unhealthy, and unsatisfactory situation.

While there has been an obsession with keeping taxes down, I believe this has been the wrong way to go about things.

What should have happened is that we should decide what services we desire, at what level, calculate how much it is going to cost to provide and then stump up, however painful that might be.

There is of course the argument that councils have not operated efficiently, certainly in the past, but that is no longer necessarily the case.

‘Efficiency’ savings have meant that staffing levels are cut down to the bone and it is increasingly difficult to provide any level of service that the general public now find acceptable.

The knock-on effect of this is that morale is at an all-time low and it is increasingly difficult to recruit replacements for those who up sticks and decide to go elsewhere.

Like or not, we cannot have it both ways. We have choices to make.

We can either sit back, moan like hell and see the continued erosion of those things we hold dear or we can roll up our sleeves, muck in and play our part.

We don’t have to pass by the litter that adorns our streets, we could offer an elderly neighbour a lift into town, do a bit of weeding along the path... So many things that we can do to make life better for all of us.

One thing I am clear about is that at all costs we must protect the most vulnerable, if for no other reason than that the cost to us, both financially and as a society, is too high for us to bear.

Linda Piggott-Vijeh