Agenda and minutes

SWT Corporate Scrutiny Committee
Wednesday, 2nd June, 2021 6.15 pm

Venue: The John Meikle Room - The Deane House. View directions

Contact: Andrew Randell Email:  Marcus Prouse Email:

Webcast: View the webcast

No. Item


Appointment of Vice-Chair




Minutes of the previous Corporate Scrutiny Committee held on 19 May 2021. pdf icon PDF 135 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:


    There were no new declarations of interest.


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 temporary legislation (within the Coronavirus Act 2020, which allowed for use of virtual meetings) coming to an end on 6 May 2021, the council’s committee meetings will now take place in the office buildings at the John Meikle Room, Deane House, Belvedere Road, Taunton. Unfortunately due to capacity requirements the Chamber at West Somerset House is not able to be used at this current moment.

    Following the Government guidance on measures to reduce the transmission of coronavirus (COVID-19), the council meeting rooms will have very limited capacity. With this in mind, we will only be allowing those members of the public who have registered to speak to attend the meetings in person at the office buildings, if they wish. (We will still be offering to those members of the public that are not comfortable in attending, for their statements to be read out by a member of the Governance team). Please can we urge all members of the public who are only interested in listening to the debate to view our live webcasts from the safety of their own home to help prevent the transmission of coronavirus (COVID-19).



    Additional documents:


    Jefferson Horsley provided the following statement:-


    Question to the Leader of the Council re Forward Plans and Risk Management


    May I congratulate the Leader of the Council on attaining through the previous work of Liberal Democrat Councillors £14million from central government towards rebuilding the Taunton Town Centre following the Covid19 pandemic?  (I am aware that there are strict conditions attached by central government as to how this should be spent and how this fund would be added to by local fund raising contributions – this not to be included as part of the question i.e for info only)


    This achievement is remarkable against the background of increasing signs of the collapse of retail businesses, and the greater number of charity shops that are now dominating the centre of Taunton.  This is to the detriment of all local businesses and other town centre users many local shops and businesses we cherish.


    Can she reassure me how this money will be spent? Can she also pledge that she will consult widely as possible with the local business community and other town centre users on how this can be done most efficiently?


    Is there a danger that the Executive will have pre-determined this?




Corporate Scrutiny Request/Recommendation Trackers (verbal update).


Corporate Scrutiny Committee Forward Plan pdf icon PDF 28 KB

    To receive items and review the Forward Plan.


    Additional documents:


    The Corporate Scrutiny Forward Plan was noted.


    An item of the Shadow Council and Unitary transition was requested to be added to the forward plan for a future committee date. This would be followed up outside of the meeting with The Chief Executive.



Executive and Full Council Forward Plan pdf icon PDF 70 KB


Executive Cllr PFH Session - Portfolio Holder for Culture

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    Councillor Caroline Ellis was thanked for her attendance to the Scrutiny Committee at short notice, she introduced an update for her Portfolio and work undertaken in the last month around the Culture Strategy.


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


    ·         The Committee congratulated Councillor Ellis on her new role as the Portfolio Holder.

    ·         Advertising the cultural offer across the district from areas outside of Taunton was encouraged.

    ·         It was recognised that live music and stage performances in West Somerset needed greater support and promotion.

    ·         Increased bus services were needed as part of an improved culture offering to enable access across the district.

    ·         Open discussions were encouraged with Councillors in relation to the culture strategy and promotion of culture.

    ·         An update around the Regal Theatre was requested. There had been a new roof and ventilation system installed. The dialogue had been positive, members of the Committee were reminded this didn’t receive Council funding which the Brewhouse benefitted from.

    ·         It was questioned if the County Council were worked with in respect of the Cultural strategy.

    ·         Arts Taunton benefitted from private sponsorship. The Brewhouse was also sponsored.

    ·         Events and the cultural offering promoted by Brendon Books were encouraged to be sponsored further by the local authority.

    ·         Encouraging participation for all members of society as parts of the local arts and culture offering was emphasised.

    ·         The future of the cultural offering in Taunton was considered alongside a new venue and the future of the Brewhouse.

    ·         The committee thanked the Portfolio holder for her attendance.


    The Corporate Scrutiny Committee noted the Portfolio Holder update.




Review of the Commercial Property Investment Activity and Performance Report pdf icon PDF 540 KB

    Additional documents:


    The Commercial Property Investment Strategy (CPIS) was approved in December 2019 and refreshed in December 2020. A requirement of the strategy (Clause 10.4) is that a report is brought to full Council every six months to report on the commercial property investment activity and the performance of the portfolio. These would report the position as at 30 September and 31 March each year.


    Since the last report was prepared, despite difficult market conditions resulting from Covid, four further properties have been purchased. These were a retail warehouse in Ayr occupied by B&Q, a retail warehouse in Birmingham occupied by Wickes, a car dealership in Stockton-On-Tees, trading as a Jaguar Land Rover franchised dealership, and an office in Birmingham occupied by the Highways Agency. Additional investment totals £28.70m taking the total amount invested in the portfolio to £44.06m by 31 March 2021 and increasing gross rental income of the portfolio to £3.25m per annum.


    As part of the Financial Strategy agreed in 2019 the Executive set a net income target of £2m+ per year through commercial property investment. Due to a reduction in financing cost assumptions the updated financial strategy for 2020 increased this target to £2.9m.


    The latest Medium Term Financial Plan forecasts, as set out in the General Fund Budget Report to Council in February 2021, included a projected Budget Gap rising to £3.5m in 2022/23 and reaching £6m by 2025/26. This gap took into account the targeted £2.9m income from commercial property investment.


    The primary reasons for the scale of budget gap included a sharp reduction in core income to the Council from business rates and New Homes Bonus grant, which underlined overall funding volatility faced by the Council. Business rates and NHB combined to give £9.5m of annual funding in 2020/21 but this was projected to reduce to only £4.3m by 2023/24 – a fall of some £5.2m. Council tax increases alone were not adequate to offset funding reductions and service cost pressures, with a 1% increase in council tax income generating around £90k per annum in additional income.


    The portfolio build was on track with a further acquisition completed in April and two properties currently under offer and scheduled for completion by the end of April which if completed will take the total amount invested to £68.6m of the approved £100m fund.


    During this period borrowing costs remained low and therefore the Council’s average borrowing costs were still predicted to be around 1.5% per annum.


    The Net Income budget for 2020/21 is £0.440m, reflecting an estimate of the pace of investment during the first year and part year rents on completed assets. Actual net income reported for the year is £0.614M, providing a surplus of £0.174M (40%) against budget.


    Despite the challenging economic conditions facing UK businesses and the economy the performance of the portfolio had been strong. To date there had been no material rental defaults and during the period of September 2020 and March 2021. The market had seen a great deal  ...  view the full minutes text for item 20.