MORE funding has been ‘made available’ for Somerset County Council’s winter gritting service after the first spell of snow fell earlier this year.

The announcement comes after the council decided to cut nearly 200 miles of road from its gritting network in a bid to save millions.

But during the snow, motorists on roads such as the A358 between Taunton and Minehead found themselves struggling to make it through, while others ended up skidding into a crash. Drivers on Porlock Hill had to abandon their cars for two days until the road was cleared.

Following the late confirmation of funding, £200,000 will be going towards a review of its winter gritting services, while other planned savings have been delayed, if the full council approves on February 20.

Leader of the council, cllr David Fothergill, said: “While it has come late in the day, this positive news means we can revisit some of the savings Cabinet was reluctant to take but had to in financially tough times.

“They were the right decisions to make or consider at the time, but we are pleased to be in a position to listen to the public and look again at some of them.

“In some cases we believe we can provide better outcomes at less cost, but delaying the savings allows us more time to develop the alternatives.

“The reinstatement of routes is not possible for this winter because we cannot ramp up operations again in such a short period of time.

“But we are committed to reviewing routes putting up to £200,000 into gritting next year.”

Extra funding for the 2019/20 budget has been identified following the very late financial settlement from Government, finalised council tax collection rates from district councils, and significantly updated estimates of how much Somerset will benefit from being part of the one-year Business Rates Retention pilot.

In total, the authority has £3.5m more than expected for 2019/20, of which around £3m is ‘one-off’ with £500,000 going into its base budget.

Planned reductions in gulley clearing and jetting (£120,000) will also be dropped, while savings in flood management (£80,000), dementia support in care homes (100,000) and supporting vulnerable young people in work (£50,000), will all be delayed for a year.

The recommendations agreed would see the one-off money used to generate long-term benefits: £500,000 for preventative work to reduce long-term costs, £1.3m to effectively pay-off debts which frees up money for future spending on services and improving reserves which are too low, and £1m used to ease pressure on capital assets so that fewer need to be sold to finance transformation work.

Cllr Fothergill said: “We still have a budget gap of £15m for next financial year and, welcome though it is, we have only gained an extra £500,000 into our ongoing base budget. Difficult decisions have had to be taken and more will need to be taken to bridge that gap, but we have done everything we can to keep the impact on residents at a minimum.

“In September we were heading for a significant overspend and took urgent action. Since then we have gripped our finnaces even more strongly with more than 96 per cent of our proposals delivered or on track for delivery. That is amazing work from our staff.

“That amazing work from our staff means we are now looking at a small underspend. This is hugely significant and helps us into next year and future years."