First meeting of LGR Implementation Board backs plan to empower communities

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First meeting of LGR Implementation Board backs plan to empower communities

The Local Government Reorganisation (LGR) Implementation Board, comprised of five County Councillors and eight District Councillors, met to review progress towards launching the new unitary Somerset Council on 1 April 2023. The Board reviewed key policies and the current performance of the LGR Programme delivery.

Among topics considered were proposals for developing Local Community Networks (LCNs). These groups will bring together unitary, City, town and parish Councillors with local residents, public services, voluntary groups and businesses, with formal power to influence decisions about their local area.

The new plan marks a shift towards empowering local communities, led by the new administration elected to Somerset County Council in May this year. It details a two-phased approach, which would see LCNs established alongside the new council and further developed over following year.

Councillor Val Keitch, Chair of the LGR Implementation Board said: “We’re setting up our unitary council in a way that locks in the influence of our local communities, so their distinct needs and aspirations won’t be overlooked. What’s important now, is that communities have clarity on what happens next. We will consult on the size and scope of LCNs this Autumn, enabling these partnerships to be stood up alongside the new council. There will then be a period of further development so that LCNs themselves can take part in defining their own role in greater detail.”

Other important discussions at the Board meeting included reviewing overall progress towards creating the new unitary council on 1 April 2023, and risks associated with the work. A key concern noted, was making sure that there are enough people to do the work, particularly since the LGR programme is now playing an important role in supporting efficiencies to reduce the very serious budget gap predicted for the first year of the new council, as a result of rising demands on services and inflation.

Councillor Duncan McGinty, Leader of Sedgemoor District Council, was elected as Vice-Chair of the LGR Implementation Board. Councillor McGinty said:

“Creating a new unitary council is a complex undertaking and the people of Somerset must know that their Councillors have clear sight of the risks. Members of the LGR Implementation Board have asked to see more frequent status reports from the programme team and we will refer matters of concern to the LGR Scrutiny Committee. This robust oversight is needed to deliver the high-quality more efficient services, which have been promised.”

The Board also reviewed plans to institute a new Advisory Forum, that will enable greater involvement of crucial partners in the public, private and voluntary sectors in the development of the new council. And a list of important legal changes, known as ‘Consequential Orders’, needed to protect rights and traditions in the county under the new authority. Details of the meeting are here.

News item added: 4 August, 2022