What are LCNs?

Local Community Networks (LCNs) will give communities power to influence decisions about their local area. They will be an important part of how our new Somerset Council works when it replaces the current county and district councils in 2023 – making sure that local areas will have an ongoing voice to shape their new council to suit their local needs.

LCNs will include city, town and parish councils, voluntary groups, NHS, schools, police, and other interested parties and residents. They will meet in local areas, in every part of the county. They’ll discuss what is most important for their area and work together to agree how best to achieve it.

Pilot LCNs are already testing this new approach across Exmoor and in the Frome area, and there is another pilot starting in the Wincanton, Bruton and Castle Cary area. When the new council opens, it’s thought that between 15 and 20 LCNs will be needed to connect and empower communities across the county.

Why do we need LCNs?

The Government has decided that the county council and four district councils will be replaced by a single county-wide ‘unitary’ council on 1 April 2023. There are good reasons for this. Getting rid of layers of local government will free up time and money for things that matter to people, like education, jobs, the environment, social care and health and wellbeing. But a big council needs a cast-iron way for local communities to have their say, so it doesn’t lose sight of what’s important to different towns and villages.

With 15 to 20 representative and empowered LCNs, our new Somerset Council can be better at thinking locally. City, town and parish councils will be front and centre in local decision making, and they will be joined by community services that can work together, backed by the new Somerset Council, to drive the change that people want.

How will LCNs work? 

LCNs will be part of the new council organisation with formal power as ‘committees of the council’. They guarantee the new council’s commitment to local communities for the future.

Elected Somerset Councillors will sit on the LCN in their area, alongside partner groups. Each LCN will be supported by dedicated staff, employed by the new council, to act as community champions and bring people and communities together to make things happen.

It is expected that LCNs will meet six to eight times a year, with locally led groups pursuing their goals between meetings. It’s important not to be too rigid about the approach though, because LCNs themselves will want to decide exactly what they do and how they do it.

What will LCNs do?

Recognising that Somerset is a county of contrasts, each LCN will develop its own goals and work together to find local solutions, based on local context, evidence and ambitions. They could focus a huge range of things including, but not limited to:

  • Investing in education and support for young people.
  • Caring for older people and supporting those with learning disabilities.
  • Supporting families and addressing local issues and concerns.
  • Working to improve local health and wellbeing.
  • Repairing roads and identifying transport needs.
  • Preparing for events like flooding or lockdowns.
  • Addressing environmental issues and climate change initiatives.
  • Building skills, training and business opportunities.
  • Plus, any number of different challenges that communities across the county face.

In deciding what matters most for their area, LCNs can consider any and all of the service areas that the council will provide. However, formal Planning and Licensing decisions will be made through separate area-based arrangements.

Each LCN will have access to a small budget to help get projects off the ground. They will help to set local priorities for the new council and can influence services and investment in their areas. The detail of how this all will work is being tested as part of the LCN pilot programme.

Where are we now?

This is a new approach for Somerset and a big change for local government, but it does work well in other parts of the country. We’ve had a really good response to the LCN pilot scheme, with people very keen to get involved and make a difference to their communities.

As at end of November 2021, two pilots are up and running:

  • Exmoor area with a focus on Highways service delivery. The pilot will focus on improved communication, opportunities for local communities to influence service delivery and trial proposals including an LCN Highway Steward. If successful, is it hoped that this model could then be replicated across the county.
  • Frome and surrounding area, focussing on Children, Families and Young People. The Town Council, surrounding parish councils and partners are currently gathering views and evidence to decide on the key priorities and how they will work together to address them.

There is another pilot starting in the Wincanton, Bruton and Castle Cary area and there is likely to be a fourth pilot starting early in 2022. The new Somerset Council team is also in ongoing dialogue with town and parish councils to understand aspirations and opportunities across the county, and to make sure that the pilots deliver results ready for the new council in March 2023.

Next steps

  • Develop and consult on potential LCN geographies.
  • Learn more from similar networks in other Unitary areas.
  • Draw up LCN governance arrangements.
  • Work with LCN pilots to assess what works and create toolkits that will help all LCNs, ready for when the new council is in place.