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To receive any apologies for absence.
An apology was received from Councillor Wheatley.
Councillor Sully attended as a substitute.
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.)
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:-
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.
No members of the public had requested to speak on any item on the agenda.
To receive items and review the Forward Plan.
(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.
Update of Post Office Ltd Provision in the district (verbal) (Richard Hall - External Affairs Manager South England and Wales / Jason Collins Network Team)
The Chair introduced Richard Hall to the committee and set out the background for the item being considered by the Scrutiny Committee. There had been questions around Post Office closures since the last election. With more information requested on closures of branches and the process and community consultation around decisions of closures of relocations.
Richard Hall provided an update to the committee setting out the progress made by the Post Office in continuing to provide its services through the pandemic whilst taking on additional responsibilities to support communities.
100 Area Managers across the Country had been recruited in the last 18 months to provide support for Post Masters where needed.
During the debate the following comments and questions were raised:-
· Proposals around closures and changes to the network were considered and detailed consultations were undertaken around this. The consultation period for closures was set at six weeks.
· Ward Councillors were informed of consultation periods in relation to closures.
· The most common reasons for Post Office closures were through retirement or resignations of postmasters or the renewal of premises and lease of a premises in which to operate. It was rare that closures were for any other reason.
· In these instances of closures, branches would look to be replaced with a new leasehold franchise where there were new parties willing to take this on. The post office were looking to expand franchises where possible.
· The details and situation around Mountfields Post Office closure would be checked and a response provided following the meeting. Concerns were expressed over the lack of engagement of the post master and councillors with the consultation signage arriving on the day of the consultation with no prior contact with the Post Master.
· Proposals for closure where compensation packages are involved were considered. Engagement or encouragement from post masters in relation to the consultation resulting in loss of compensation packages was questioned. The committee were reassured that there had been no gagging as part of closure programmes.
· The current offering from the post office was based on commercial retail with a post office offering, previously this was a post office offering mixed with some retail, with the model changing in the last decade.
· The aim by 2025 was to increase branches to 12,000. There was 11,500 estimated branches at present.
· It was recognised that recruitment for post masters needed to be easier and simpler for those looking to apply.
· The failings of the past were recognised in the recent Post Master Court Case and work was ongoing to ensure adequate and fair compensation for those involved.
· It was questioned if there were retail targets, there were initiatives of certain products at bigger branches but individual targets were not in place for smaller branches.
· Rural access for post office services was ensured locally but in some instances these were offered on a more limited timeframe with mobile services from other localities in place.
· The central post office in Taunton was under threat two years previously, with the location it ... view the full minutes text for item 5.