Executive Portfolio Holder Report for Local Government Reorganisation – Councillor Sarah Wakefield.
Update report as submitted to Full Council on Tuesday 6 September.
Cllr Sarah Wakefield gave a verbal report on her portfolio responsibilities for the Local Government Review. Her report in the agenda pack had been provided in advance of Full Council (the night before) and as such she advised on the following updates.
There was considerable pressure on teams to deliver the budgets for the new Council, taking into account the rising costs due to inflation, pay settlement, new legislation around social care, utilities and supply chain materials. A lot of staff were being deployed away from their substantive posts to cover work in advance of vesting day, and this was having an impact on their Business as Usual (BAU) roles. Such work included setting the Medium-Term Financial Plans, budget setting for the new council, delivery of the LCN consultation and also work to establish the new Taunton Town Council.
The appointment of the new CEO, Duncan Sharkey had happened, and he was due to take up his role in October. Target operating modelling was going to take place across the organisation to create a council that was fit for purpose and safe, legal and functioning on vesting day. Duncan Sharkey will be an integral part of this process to ensure that he had the teams he wants in place to deliver the aspirations of the new Council.
The Local Community Network (LCN) consultation had been launched this week, and Cllr Wakefield encouraged everyone to take part. There are face-to-face consultations due to take place, as well as virtual meetings for councillors, parishes, towns and stakeholders. The following points were made :-
· How big are the boundaries of the LCNs? The consultation covers three options with various size boundaries. These range from 10 LCNs up to 18 across Somerset. One of the options allows SCC Cllrs to cover their Division only, whilst another might mean that they have to sit on more than one LCN.
· The geographical boundaries are not set in stone and that is why the consultation is important! It is also recognised that there will be some cross boundary working between parishes with similar issues.
· LCNs will be committees of the Council so only elected SCC members can vote on the decision making as they will be responsible for the budgets.
· Initially LCNs will influence Planning and Licencing but will not determine those decisions. It is recognised that the appropriate training is required for those who sit on these committees. It could evolve however as the Unitary continues to take shape.
· Officer support will be provided to facilitate the LCNs. This is where the majority of the budget will be allocated. They will be set up and ready on vesting day but will develop as the Unitary evolves. It is yet to be determined how they will fit into the municipal calendar and how many meetings will be needed a year.
· Cllrs Lloyd and Lisgo expressed disappointment at the late notice for the consultation that had taken place in Deane House that day. Not enough time to respond or change plans at the last minute.
· Some parish councils would like Alyn Jones to visit them and talk more about the process. He can be booked via email. Send an invitation to AGJones@somerset.gov.uk.
· LCNs will mean management of resources at a more local level. “If we are delivering more services, do we get more funding?” Some parish councils are already asking how their budget process will feed into the LCN.
· The details of the LCNs were not fleshed out in the One Somerset business plan, so they are a growing entity. There was no finance or budget set aside by the previous administration for their implementation, so this will need to be put in place for next year. An estimated £5million has been put in the budget for the current LGR delivery programme.
· Cllr Lisgo accepted that this was going to be a difficult process as the plan was an inherited project which needed to be delivered and was put in place to improve democracy! She was trying to fill out the consultation on-line but found some of the questions intrusive. Cllr Wakefield said that post code details were asked in the questionnaire to ensure that the survey was being filled in by Somerset residents and analyse the data later.
· There was some concern around accessibility. It was not helpful that the questionnaire was only available on-line. What other methods are there to participate?
· Cllr Whetlor asked that invitations were sent to councillors as well as clerks to ensure greater participation. She felt that the LCNs should be run along similar lines to the former Local Strategic Partnerships.
7.10pm Cllr Ed Firmin left the meeting.
· It was requested that the LCN project management team return to Deane House and this is widely publicised to ensure greater participation. The project team are returning to Deane House on Friday 16 September, and will be at West Somerset House on Monday 10 October. Communications have been sent out to ensure Councillors are notified.
· Cllr Thwaites highlighted that the LCN Highways pilot taking place on Exmoor was working well, and the parishes were pleased with the progress - so don’t stop it!
The chairs closing comments were that communications need to be improved especially to the parishes. Planning training needs to be thoroughly rolled out if LCNs are to be part of the process as parish councils can labour over these decisions. It was also noted that there had been very little commentary to do with corporate issues, not least assets – especially the staff! They are the biggest asset of the Authorities. What is being done for their welfare and to protect their jobs? This is all covered in the People Workstream of the LGR Programme which is the responsibility of Alison North. There are various welfare and cultural workshops and packages in place to support the staff, and the legal implications come under the Transfer of Undertakings (TUPE) legislation. The wider impact of this and a more in-depth report can be provided at a future meeting.
7.26pm Cllr Sarah Wakefield left the meeting.