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Eric Pickles says changes need to be made at Somerset County Council

Peter Lewis was appointed in May 2013 to turn around Children's Services at Somerset County Council Credit: ITV West Country

The Local Government secretary Eric Pickles has weighed into the row over the money paid to the head of Children's Services at Somerset County Council.

Peter Lewis was appointed in May 2013 to turn around the service after an Ofsted report found Child Protection there was inadequate. He costs the council £318,500 a year, although an employment agency takes a percentage of the fee.

Mr Lewis is paid through a company he owns which means he has the potential to pay lower tax on dividends rather than the higher tax a normal salary would attract. It's a legal scheme but it has been banned in the civil service and NHS.

Somerset County Council says Mr Lewis' tax affairs are a matter for him and the inland revenue but this afternoon Mr Pickles said:

This Government is committed to tackling all forms of tax avoidance, and has given clear guidance to councils to stop dubious pay arrangements through personal service companies. We've changed the law to reduce secrecy on town hall pay deals, and given elected councillors the power to veto excessive senior pay. Councillors now need to use these powers - and they should be held to account if they turn a blind eye.

– Local Government secretary Eric Pickles

1 in 10 parents skip meals to feed their children

Families in the South West are struggling to deal with rising costs of living. A mother from Bristol describes how she has to find savings on food in order to meet household costs.

The charity Shelter claims that more than a third of working parents are cutting back on food spending to cope with increasing housing costs. With 1 in 10 even skipping meals.

What we need to see the Government do is make sure the safety net is strong, so if people lose their jobs, or their income falls off a cliff they don't lose their homes straight away, and can take that chance to get back on their feet.

– Shelter


Taunton Deane Borough Council to move to County Hall

Taunton Deane Borough Council has finally voted to move to Somerset County Hall, one month after a similar proposal was narrowly rejected.

A sign outside the Council's current premises. Credit: ITV News

The council says it costs £650,000 a year to occupy the ageing Deane House off Station Road in Taunton. Its report also found that creating a public sector 'one-stop-shop' together with the County Council would make life easier for service users.

Discussions will now start with the County Council about how best to facilitate the move.

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Alexander: Economic recovery is gaining momentum

Figures showing a fall in unemployment shows Britain's economic recovery is "continuing to gain momentum", the Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander said.

Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander. Credit: PA Wire

"With record numbers in work and the claimant count falling, these figures show that our economic recovery is continuing to gain momentum," Mr Alexander said.

"It's further proof that our Liberal Democrat tax cuts for working people, support for apprenticeships and our determination to tackle the deficit fairly are working - and so is the country.

"There is still a long way to go, but this is solid progress and the significant fall in youth employment is particularly encouraging and welcome."

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