Lively debate sets ‘springboard’ for new council
Highlights from the Advisory Board meeting in Donyatt Village Hall 25.11.21
Residents and representatives from organisations including Spark and Historic England attended the Advisory Board today (November 25) when it met to discuss the next steps in Local Government Reorganisation in Somerset.
The Advisory Board is a less formal public meeting and is designed to provide a way for councillors, public sector partners, the public and other interested groups to feed into the process and share ideas as the new council takes shape.
A unitary authority is being created in place of Mendip District Council, Sedgemoor District Council, Somerset County Council, Somerset West & Taunton Council and South Somerset District Council.
The new council will officially come into being in April 2023. Until then your services will continue to be provided by the four District Councils – Mendip, Sedgemoor, Somerset West and Taunton and South Somerset along with Somerset County Council.
What was discussed?
Chairman of the Advisory Board, Cllr Faye Purbrick opened the meeting with an introduction and welcome to those councillors, guests and residents in attendance who came from across Somerset.
A presentation followed from the Programme’s Director Dr Carlton Brand on the recent Draft Structural Changes Order – which Parliament must agree to provide the legal basis for a new council. It included an update on possible dates for an election to a new authority, which could be in 2022 or 2023.
He advised the meeting that councillors from the four District Councils and the County Council had already provided feedback on the Draft Structural Changes Order. An agreed, full version will go through Parliament in early 2022.
There were further presentations including how Local Government Reorganisation will be communicated to communities, our city, town and parish councils and other partners; plus there was further discussion about the Local Community Network pilots (including the new pilot being explored in the Wincanton area, which will focus on health and wellbeing).
There will be 15 to 20 new Local Community Networks (LCNs) across Somerset designed to give local people the opportunity to shape their communities. LCNs will have real decision-making powers to shape policy and take action to improve their local areas.
The meeting concluded with a review of next steps and the forward plan, again led by Cllr Purbrick.
Presentations from the Advisory Board meeting are available here
Residents and representatives of parish and town councils attended and asked a number of questions.
A frank exchange of views revealed some frustration with the amount of public information on this historic change. While recent developments, such the new website, were welcomed, Councillors and public participants alike, urged a step-change in driving public awareness.
A range of positive ideas, to make more of existing local networks and to reach out to people sometimes overlooked in local debates, were put forward. The Advisory Board committed their team to following up on these ideas, welcoming peoples’ enthusiasm to drive the debate around how our new council should work. One speaker summed it up – getting this right now will be a ‘springboard’ for the new council.
The website address is: www.newsomersetcouncil.org.uk
Somerset residents, councils and partners can contact the LGR Programme here: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Advisory Committee was asked whether planning approval could be delegated to the Local Community Networks in the new model. Cllr Purbrick confirmed the current system, whereby city, town and parish councils can make recommendations on applications to a planning authority, would remain sovereign, but the views of councils on this were welcome.
Other questions concerned whether the proposals “will lead to services being better resourced” or if this would “be a merger of existing councils with no additional funding”. Dr Brand responded that money will be freed up through this process to invest back into front line services. He said it was about creating a new council with a new culture, one that will ensure local communities and local councils can come together to create a plan which will address many of the issues and service pressures which have arisen in the past 10 or more years.
An additional question was asked around how current social housing stock will be protected through the creation of the new council. Dr Brand confirmed that the approved business case pledges to protect the four current models in each of the district areas and commits to building new housing.
The December meeting of the Advisory Committee will be in Stoke St Gregory Village Hall on 16 December from 3pm to 5pm. The agenda is likely to include updates and discussions on the creation of Taunton Town Council, the role and job description for unitary councillors and Local Community Network boundaries.
The aim, in future, is for these sessions to be streamed online so the public can either attend in person or view the livestream.
News item added: 29 November, 2021