Agenda and minutes

SWT Scrutiny Committee
Wednesday, 2nd December, 2020 6.15 pm

Venue: Webcasting - Virtual. View directions

Contact: Andrew Randell Email:  Marcus Prouse Email:

Webcast: View the webcast

No. Item




Minutes of the previous meeting of the Scrutiny Committee held on 14 October, 4 November and 11 November 2020 pdf icon PDF 190 KB


Declarations of Interest

    To receive and note any declarations of disclosable pecuniary or prejudicial or personal interests in respect of any matters included on the agenda for consideration at this meeting.


    (The personal interests of Councillors and Clerks of Somerset County Council, Town or Parish Councils and other Local Authorities will automatically be recorded in the minutes.)

    Additional documents:


    Members present at the meeting declared the following personal interests in their capacity as a Councillor or Clerk of a County, Town or Parish Council or any other Local Authority:-



    Minute No.

    Description of Interest


    Action Taken

    Cllr N Cavill

    All Items

    West Monkton


    Spoke and Voted

    Cllr S Coles

    All Items

    SCC & Taunton Charter Trustee


    Spoke and Voted

    Cllr J Hunt

    All Items

    SCC & Bishop’s Hull


    Spoke and Voted

    Cllr L Lisgo

    All Items

    Taunton Charter Trustee


    Spoke and Voted

    Cllr D Perry

    All Items

    Taunton Charter Trustee


    Spoke and Voted

    Cllr R Tully

    All Items

    West Monkton


    Spoke and Voted


    Councillor Lisgo declared an interest as a trustee of North Taunton Partnership.


Public Participation

    The Chair to advise the Committee of any items on which members of the public have requested to speak and advise those members of the public present of the details of the Council’s public participation scheme.


    For those members of the public who have submitted any questions or statements, please note, a three minute time limit applies to each speaker and you will be asked to speak before Councillors debate the issue.


    Temporary measures during the Coronavirus Pandemic

    Due to the Government guidance on measures to reduce the transmission of coronavirus (COVID-19), we will holding meetings in a virtual manner which will be live webcast on our website. Members of the public will still be able to register to speak and ask questions, which will then be read out by the Governance and Democracy Case Manager during Public Question Time and will either be answered by the Chair of the Committee, or the relevant Portfolio Holder, or be followed up with a written response.

    Additional documents:


    The following letter was submitted in respect of Item 7 on the Agenda


    Dear Councillor Wren


    I have been asked by a group of local businesses, all involved with the development and construction industry in the district, to write to Somerset West and Taunton Council to register their concerns over the action the Council have recently taken regarding the non-determination of planning applications.


    We have been advised by your officers, that following a notice from Natural England regarding elevated phosphate levels in the watercourses of the Somerset levels, that planning applications relating to residential and commercial development will for the foreseeable future, not be determined.

    This notice was issued with no consultation or any lead in period to allow developers, architects or planning consultants to make contingency plans or make representations before the planning system was effectively closed down.


    Within a period of six weeks of planning “lock down” so far, we are feeling the effect of this action, with a number businesses already having to make staff redundant and make enforced pay cuts. We are all having to deal with the challenges that BREXIT and COVID has created, however, this issue is and will continue to have a direct and significant effect on our local economy and local businesses. We are at the front end of this situation, but very soon the consultants, the sub-contractors and suppliers we use, will also feel the effect. There are a significant number of small builders who may be unaware of this situation, who will also soon see their workload dry up as their clients planning applications do not get processed. This will, very quickly affect many hundreds, if not thousands of local jobs.


    Having undertaken some research in to the issue of rising phosphate concentrations in the Somerset levels, it appears that this issue has been known about for many years and Somerset West and Taunton Council were made aware of this earlier in the year. Which begs the question, why has the door closed immediately on determining planning applications. Looking at Wessex Water’s five year plan, in their Green Prospectus, they have been planning and are now putting in measures to improve the quality of water leaving their sewerage treatment works. Why is it, Wessex Water apparently have years to address this issue, though the planning system is shut down overnight. We had no prior warning, consultation, nor time given for architects, agents or developers to consult, discuss options and possibly implement improvement measures to improve the current and future quality of the water in the Somerset levels. If Wessex Water, Natural England and the Environment Agency had been consulted during the making of the Local Plan, one would have expected that they should have planned for the growth in housing and jobs in the area. If not, then should they not have raised this issue and their concerns at the growth of housing within the county, at that time?

    We also understand that, whilst in theory, if mitigation measures are  ...  view the full minutes text for item 98.


Scrutiny Committee Forward Plan pdf icon PDF 44 KB

    To receive items and review the Forward Plan.

    Additional documents:


    (Copy of the Scrutiny Committee Forward Plan, circulated with the agenda).


    Councillors were reminded that if they had an item they wanted to add to the agenda, that they should send their requests to the Governance Team.


    Resolved that the Scrutiny Committee Forward Plan be noted.


Executive and Full Council Forward Plan pdf icon PDF 37 KB


Update on addressing Phosphate levels

    This matter is the responsibility of the Portfolio Holder for Planning and Transportation, Cllr Mike Rigby.


    By request of the Scrutiny Committee for further information, a presentation will be given following the letter received by the Council from Natural England.

    Additional documents:


    The Assistant Director for Planning Policy presented an update on addressing phosphate levels and the impact on the construction industry in the area as a result of recent developments.


    During the debate the following comments and questions were raised.

    ·         The risk of refusing certain planning permission and reasoning around this would be liable to be appealed. If successful on appeal costs would be incurred. It was determined that there was less risk around this due to the precedent of other appeal decisions in Mendip around phosphates.

    ·         A letter from Natural England has meant would require inspectors requiring the evidence to conclude the development could go ahead.

    ·         Interim solutions potentially included offsetting phosphates. Waste water treatment works were the main factor around this. Some developers were looking at approaches to offset the impacts.

    ·         There were arguments around evaluating the interim solutions.

    ·         Wessex Water plans focused around new infrastructure and offsetting. A market for phosphate offsetting was being considered alongside plans for improvements to treatment works. It was unknown which treatment works would be prioritised in which locations.

    ·         Existing allocations in agricultural land and moving into public ownership was an opportunity to address this. Notifying new planning applicants was emphasised. All applications within the catchment area should be picked up.

    ·         It was questioned if there was a target level of phosphate. Achieving neutrality on new developments was the ambition, in Ramsar sites the aim was to bring them back to a favourable position.

    ·         It was Understood that Kent and Hampshire were setting land aside as mitigation. Wessex Water in conjunction with Bath University were working on algae which could reduce levels. Further solutions were also being explored.

    ·         It was questioned why Wessex Water hadn’t been invited at this meeting.Further details of Mitigation measures were requested in addition to when Wessex Water began to address phosphate levels. 

    ·         Further information was requested on how could buying “up land” unless it is already contributing to phosphates solve the problem?

    ·         The committee were of the view that there was a need to focus on agriculture.

    ·         It was noted that Ham works had recently built three large sheds, and planning history on SCC web site revealed that they might in fact be related to phosphate extraction and this should be further investigated

    ·         It was questioned what the role of the Somerset Rivers Authority (SRA)?

    ·         Further information was requested around refusing applications and how would it work? The agricultural split was questioned including if 35% could be broken down?

    ·         The Scrutiny Committee requested that the Executive consider the huge impact on our SME's and request they expedite, whilst working with officers and the consultants, the short term solutions for treatment requirement and mitigation measures to provide certainty to our local construction industries.'




               The Scrutiny Committee noted the update


Corporate Performance Report - Quarter 2, 2020/21 pdf icon PDF 344 KB

    This matter is the responsibility of Portfolio Holder for Corporate Resources, Cllr Ross Henley.


    The report provides an update on the council’s performance for the first 6 months (April – September) of the 2020/21 financial year.  The report includes information for a range of key performance indicators and also provides an update on progress against the council’s annual plan commitments for the current year.


    Additional documents:


    The report provided an update on the council’s performance for the first 6 months (April – September) of the 2020/21 financial year.  The report included information for a range of key performance indicators and also provided an update on progress against the council’s annual plan commitments for the year. 


    As part of the Councils commitment to transparency and accountability the report provided an update on performance for a number of key indicators across a range of council services and also provided progress monitoring for the implementation of the Corporate Strategy, and the delivery of the commitments made in the 2020/21 Annual Plan. 


    Impact of Covid-19

    There had been a continued impact on the work of the Council as a direct result of the Covid-19 pandemic. The last corporate performance report provided a more detailed update on the specific additional work undertaken by the council between April and July. Many of these tasks had continued and the pandemic still had a significant impact on the council’s activity and workload. In addition, there had been further new requirements placed on the council during August and September, such as implementing the grants for people who need to self-isolate having been contacted by Track and Trace. 


    Key Performance Indicators

    The table in Appendix 1 set out the councils Key Performance Indicators and detailed how the council had performed for the first 6 months of the 2020/21 financial year.  The table also included a “direction of travel” arrow to show whether performance had improved, worsened or stayed the same, since the last corporate performance report which was for the end of July.


    For the majority of indicators the target had either been met or in many cases, been exceeded. The direction of travel showed that for many indicators performance had remained at a similar level to that at the end of July. However, there were several indicators where performance had got worse, but in all cases, the fall was slight and the target was still being met. Close monitoring of these indicators over future months would be undertaken to ensure appropriate action is taken where required. For the 2 indicators where performance is significantly below target, and the indicator is rated “Red”, commentary was provided below:


    Number of complaints responded to in 10 working days


    Further to the analysis undertaken over the summer, a review into the Complaints process was underway.  A number of process improvements have been identified and are in the process of being implemented.  The review has identified a bottleneck within the process.  The process is being changed to remove this bottleneck and to move to a process where complaints are investigated and responded to within the individual services rather than issuing all responses through the Complaints Manager.  This will also allow the complaints manager to spend more time analysing complaint trends, working with teams to target improvements based on this intelligence and supporting Case Managers through training and workshops.  


    In addition the Customer Services team are working with the Business Analysts  ...  view the full minutes text for item 102.


2020/21 Financial Monitoring as at Quarter 2 (30 September 2020) pdf icon PDF 501 KB

    This matter is the responsibility of the Portfolio Holder for Corporate Resources, Cllr Ross Henley.


    This report provides an update on the projected outturn financial position of the Council for the financial year 2020/21 (as at 30 September 2020).



    Additional documents:


    This report provides an update on the projected outturn financial position of the Council for the financial year 2020/21 (as at 30 September 2020).


    The position this year was significantly affected by COVID – both in terms of large additional sums spent on issuing financial assistance to local businesses and council tax payers, and direct impact on the Council’s service costs and income. Financial pressures are reported, which is partly offset by emergency grant funding from Government but has also required the Council to reprioritise funds and support the annual budget from reserves. Despite this, the Council remains financially resilient and continues to forecast adequate reserve balances.


    The current forecast was summarised:

    General Fund Revenue Projected £551k overspend (£625k relating to COVID and an underspend of £74k for non-COVID) Housing Revenue Account Projected £140k overspend


    This report provided the Council’s forecast end of year financial position for revenue and capital expenditure as at 30 September 2020 for the Council’s General Fund (GF) and Housing Revenue Account (HRA).



    The regular monitoring of financial information is a key element in the Council’s Performance Management Framework. Crucially it enables remedial action to be taken in response to significant budget variances, some of which may be unavoidable. It also provides the opportunity to assess any consequent impact on reserves and the Council’s Medium Term Financial Plan.


    Members will be aware from previous experience that the position can change between ‘in-year’ projections and the final outturn position, mainly due to demand-led service costs and income levels. The budget monitoring process involves a detailed review of the more volatile budgets and a proportionate review of low risk/low volatility budget areas. Budget Holders, with support and advice from their accountants, update their forecasts on a monthly basis based on currently available information and knowledge of service requirements for the remainder of the year. As with any forecast there is always a risk that some unforeseen changes could influence the position at the year-end, and a number of risks and uncertainties are highlighted within this report. However, the following forecast is considered to be reasonable based on current information. 


    Budgets have now all been allocated out to the relevant Directors.


    General Fund Revenue Budget – 2020/21 Forecast Outturn


    The Council was forecasting an overall net overspend of £551k (2.6% of £21m Net Budget), as summarised below. The main reasons for this are due to pressures relating to COVID additional cost and income reductions accounting for £625k of the overspend. A recommendation to Full Council was included in the Month 4 forecast report to approve a supplementary estimate of £657k from General Reserves for COVID related pressures. This is due to be considered by Council on 15 December 2020.






    During the debate the following comments and questions were made:-

    ·        HRA debt was questioned. This was currently around £100 million and was serviced in some instances by internal borrowing

    ·        Would external borrowing be required to service the levels of debt.

    ·        Clarification was requested on the £249k funding for Unitary and  ...  view the full minutes text for item 103.


Review of Voluntary and Community Sector Grants pdf icon PDF 554 KB

    This matter is the responsibility of Executive Portfolio Holder for Community Cllr Chris Booth.


    The report provides an update on progress since February 2020 regarding the Annual Review for Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS) Grants.


    Additional documents:


    On 19th February 2020, the Localities Manager brought forward a report to Full Council outlining the Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS) Grants Annual Review for 2019/20. This is a comprehensive report and no attempt is made to replicate it here. 


    A link to the copy of that report was provided


    Full Council resolved “that officers, in consultation with Councillors, carried out a review of current areas of funding and set new funding objectives in line with the Councils corporate objectives and current needs within the community and reported to the Scrutiny Committee, Executive and Full Council in September/October 2020;”


    Initial work towards the review outlined above took the form of a workshop of officers who set a number of criteria that they felt VCS funding should meet. These included but were not limited to:

    ·         Money and debt advice

    ·         Housing advice and tenancy sustainment 

    ·         Mental health support and advocacy

    ·         Social enterprise, skills and training support in deprived areas

    ·         General information, advice and guidance

    ·         Support for rural areas

    ·         Support for families

    ·         Advice for Community buildings and village halls

    ·         Community transport 


    From March onwards the country had seen the effects of the global pandemic known as COVID-19. This has had a profound effect on the voluntary and community sector in two ways. Firstly, this sector had been at the forefront of efforts to look after the wider community in often unexpected ways. There were countless examples of communities and individuals stepping forward to provide help and support. Secondly, this sector had been unable to raise funds for themselves in their normal fashion and were therefore vulnerable themselves to the effects of the coronavirus, albeit economically. 


    The priorities set out in the report came from a workshop to act as a guide for decision making regarding 20/21 funding of the VCS. In light of the interruption and disruption caused by COVID, the aim of this review was to demonstrate if the Council is meeting these priorities and in which locations to identify any gaps by priority or geographic area. 


    The original report recommended aligning funding with Corporate Objectives and current needs within the community. Corporate Objectives and the current needs within the community as espoused by the Voluntary and Community Sector are aligned – in particular, this work supported tackling economic, social and health inequalities within the groups and communities that need extra support. It was felt that employment and skills were generally picked up elsewhere and so were not fully reflected. 


    This commentary formed part of the review of Voluntary and Community Sector Grants taken to Full Council in February 2020. Other issues recommended in the review referred to the Governance of the schemes, in particular clarity of outputs, outcomes and performance measures submitted by partner organisations. Further to that the grant proposal document included information captured on sustainability of projects, match funding and added value. This has been picked up as a business as usual improvement. Grants forms are continually reviewed and improved and work is in progress to try to align  ...  view the full minutes text for item 104.


Access to Information - Exclusion of the Press and Public

    During discussion of the following item it may be necessary to pass the following resolution to exclude the press and public having reflected on Article 13 13.02(e) (a presumption in favour of openness) of the Constitution.  This decision may be required because consideration of this matter in public may disclose information falling within one of the descriptions of exempt information in Schedule 12A to the Local Government Act 1972.  The Scrutiny Committee will need to decide whether, in all the circumstances of the case, the public interest in maintaining the exemption, outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information. If Councillors on the Committee wish to discuss any of the confidential appendices included in the following reports, a motion to exclude will have to be passed as follows;


    Recommend that under Section 100A(4) of the Local Government Act 1972 the public be excluded from the next items of business on the grounds that it involves the likely disclosure of exempt information as defined in paragraph 3 respectively of Part 1 of Schedule 12A of the Act, namely information relating to the financial or business affairs of any particular person (including the authority holding that information).  


    Additional documents:


    Resolved that:- The Scrutiny Committee Recommended that under Section 100A(4) of the Local Government Act 1972 the public be excluded from the next item of business on the ground that it involves the likely disclosure of exempt information as defined in paragraph 3 respectively of Part 1 of Schedule 12A of the Act, namely information relating to the financial or business affairs of any particular person (including the authority holding that information).   




Extension of Public Space at Belvedere Road pdf icon PDF 285 KB

    This matter is the responsibility of the Portfolio Holder for Asset Management and Economic Development, Cllr Marcus Kravis.


    The report concerns the options available regarding two Council-owned buildings.



    Additional documents:


    The Asset Management Team are reviewing ongoing liabilities for Council owned property as part of the 30 year maintenance plan. The asset in question and the disused building nearby have been identified as adding limited value to the portfolio when compared with the on-going costs of maintenance, the capital investment needed, and the potential to improve the area that the current properties occupy. 


    The recent surveys on property compliance have identified an immediate expenditure required on the asset. Added to that was a further predicted spend was needed to modernise the property and improve accommodation standards. 


    The recommendations of this report were to demolish both properties and remove the ongoing liabilities for Somerset West and Taunton Council. The area to then be utilised as an extension to the public space removing the opportunities for antisocial behaviour through activities no longer being shielded by the buildings.

    ·         The carbon cost of asset disposal was questioned along with the building and land value.

    ·         Consideration to the surrounding landscape areas were questioned. Future use was still to be defined.

    ·         Recent works on the roof had been undertaken, cost estimates of roofing works in the report were questioned.

    ·         Additional uses of the building was requested to be considered such as houses and office space.

    ·         Auctioning the building was requested to be considered.

    ·         Ongoing support with the tenants to assist with alternative office space was encouraged.

    ·         It was requested not to demolish Flook House and to use the saving, tenant income and other funding be sought to invest in improving it.

    ·         The committee were of the view for the item to be considered at Full Council due to it being an asset of importance to the residents of Taunton.

    The Scrutiny Committee recommended to the Executive:-

    The Committee consider that the historic importance of the building to Taunton in the long term requires that its future needs to be secured and the decision of its future needs to be taken at Full Council.