New Somerset Council to have local communities at its heart


New Somerset Council to have local communities at its heart

Highlights from the fourth Advisory Board Meeting, held virtually via Microsoft Teams   16.12.21

A new Somerset Council will be a local council, with residents and communities playing a front and centre role. That was the key message from the fourth Local Government Reorganisation (LGR) Advisory Board Meeting in December.

Held virtually, via Microsoft Teams, the event was attended by 95 people from across the county, all keen to contribute to discussions on building a new Council for Somerset.

Advisory Board Meetings provide an informal environment in which residents, councillors, public sector partners and other interested groups can feed into the process and share ideas as the new unitary council takes shape.

On the agenda this month (and indeed every month, such are their importance) were Local Community Networks (LCNs), with a particular focus on their boundaries and budgets.

It’s envisaged up to 20 LCNs will be established on 1 April 2023, when the new Somerset Council officially begins. Consisting of residents, councillors, town and parish councils, community groups and partners such as the NHS, education, and the Police and Fire Service, LCNs will have decision-making powers to shape policy and take action to improve their local area.

LCN pilots are well under way in Exmoor and Frome, with a new pilot being explored in the Wincanton area, which will focus on health and wellbeing.

Chair of the Advisory Board, Cllr Faye Purbrick, said: “We introduced the LCN concept at our first Advisory Board event in Frome and have considered the approach in detail at each meeting since. They are central to the business case for our new council, and I’m delighted to see communities engaging in shaping them.

“LCN pilots, and learning together about how they should work, is our priority. How boundaries will be established and how many LCNs will exist across the whole county has also been of key interest to everyone involved.

“Broadly, there has been a very positive response. Comments such as ‘we love the principles’ and ‘this is the one thing that won me over’ stick in my mind as a sign we have an opportunity to achieve something meaningful here for our communities in Somerset.”

Cllr Purbrick added: “Key learnings on LCNs to date, have demonstrated that many town and parish councils want to grasp the opportunity to have more influence and do more locally.

“Other public services like the NHS and Police are also beginning to see how the LCN model can become a central vehicle for them to engage with the public. And the voluntary and community sector recognises the value of being engaged with LCNs that have formal power as ‘committees of the council’.

“Finally, we’ve learnt that LCNs must remain flexible over time. Communities want the power to reshape themselves and change what they focus on as their situation changes – and that’s the essence of our proposed LCN approach. They will be at the heart of the new Somerset Council.”

In addition to LCNs, there were presentations on the Somerset West & Taunton proposals for the creation of a Taunton Town Council, and discussions around the role and job description for unitary councillors.

A communications update included news of the new website launch, and email contact address for those interested in learning more about the LGR programme.

The meeting concluded with a review of next steps and the forward plan. All presentations from December’s Advisory Board meeting are available HERE.

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 on 1 April 2023. Until then, services will continue to be provided by the four District Councils and the County Council.

Next meeting

Advisory Boards have taken place in Frome, Bridgwater, Donyatt and virtually, via Teams. Public sessions will continue be held at venues across Somerset, Government COVID redirections permitting, as well as online, where possible, enabling the public to attend in person or view the livestream.

The next meeting will be held virtually on Thursday 3 February, 15.30-17.00. Nearer the time, you’ll find a live link HERE.

News item added: 11 January, 2022