October 3, 2018
Former Burnham MP Tessa Munt attacks local MPs over £11m cutbacks

Former Burnham-On-Sea MP and current Lib Dem councillor Tessa Munt has this week slammed Conservative MPs representing Somerset for failing to gain Westminster’s backing to sort out the County Council’s financial crisis.

Somerset County Council has announced an additional £11 million round of cuts on top of the £11 million announced in February.

The council is slashing 130 jobs and has approved a number of cutbacks including the removal of funding for Citizens Advice Bureau services and a reduction in the winter road gritting network from 23 to 16 routes - including gritting routes in Burnham-On-Sea and Highbridge this winter.

Tessa Munt, pictured, said this week: "When even the Conservative leader of the Council says he feels ‘abandoned’ by the five local Conservative MPs, you know there’s a massive disconnect between what these MPs promised when they ran for election in 2017 and what they are delivering now."

"MPs aren't in Parliament simply to file into the lobby to support the Conservative Government every time there’s a vote. They promised to do their best for local people - and each and every one of them is failing to do that."

"There’s plenty that could be done by the Conservative Government to prevent this Conservative-run Council sliding inexorably towards bankruptcy, and the inevitable crisis that will cause for the most vulnerable members of our community."

"But every one of our MPs is sitting on his or her hands. They failed miserably to make the savings they hoped for last year, so how on earth do they think they’re going to make £22 million of cuts this year?"

"And if they don’t, spending will slip further into the red, which means Westminster-appointed Commissioners coming in to run the Council’s affairs."

Tessa maintains that the County’s five Conservative MPs should have been lobbying hard for the Government to put Somerset into the pilot project to allow the County to keep its Business Rates – instead of the money being "siphoned off" to Westminster.

She says: "The Government promised that rural counties like ours would receive this support back in 2016 – but have failed to deliver. Any MP worth his or her salt would be holding the Minister’s feet to the fire – now - to get this money to us."

"We have also argued that Government should allow Councils to raise extra money for Children’s Care, in the same way that they have done for adult social care. For the cost of a cup of coffee a week, another £4 million could go to protect vulnerable children."

Tessa has thrown down the gauntlet to the County’s MPs to come and speak to Councillors and be briefed on the part they could – and should - play in dealing with the crisis.

The council's leader David Fothergill said the model for funding local authorities is "broken" and it was "absolutely the most difficult set of decisions we have had to consider" in making the necessary cutbacks.

Burnham-On-Sea's MP James Heappey responded: "A press release circulated by a PR firm working for Councillor Tessa Munt has drawn ridicule after forgetting that whilst serving as the Member of Parliament, their client voted in favour of cuts to Somerset County Council’s budget in each of the five years she was in Westminster. As a result of her votes to reduce Somerset’s grants from central government, funding fell during her tenure by nearly £30 million per year – nearly twice the current shortfall in the council’s finances.

"More disturbing still is that her PR agency don’t seem to understand that Somerset is spending £15.4 million this year in interest on the debts left by the Lib Dems when they were in charge at County Hall. If her party colleagues had not been so reckless in saddling Somerset with hundreds of millions of pounds of debt a decade ago, Somerset residents wouldn’t now be paying almost as much in interest as we’re spending on maintaining our roads."

"When the savings the county council are seeking are less than the interest being paid on the Lib Dem debt, I’d have thought she’d be better asking her PR team to issue an apology rather than such a nakedly political and factually inaccurate press release. This really is a spectacular own goal from Councillor Munt."

Mr Heappey says he held lengthy meetings with the leader of the county council in January, May and July in which he’d been briefed on the financial challenges facing the council.

Over that period Mr Heappey says he was working with other Somerset MPs to lobby Government for more money and he continues to do so. Whilst chairing the Rural Fair Share Campaign, Mr Heappey says he was instrumental in securing a review into the funding formula for allocating money to local councils. He is also pushing hard for Somerset to be included in the next phase of the Business Rates retention pilot.

Mr Heappey added: "I’ll take no lessons from Councillor Munt given that she voted for these cuts in Parliament and she’s shown no remorse for the levels of debt her party colleagues have left Somerset residents to pay off. It is telling that whilst just about every other county councillor in the Wells Constituency – including other Lib Dems - has been in touch to talk about the situation at County Hall and my work in Parliament to support the council, Councillor Munt hasn’t made contact at all. I know that she is busy trying to stop Brexit and campaigning for a General Election in 2022 but I’m happy to work with people from all parties for the good of our community. She only needs to find the time to get in touch."


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