Executive Portfolio Holder Report for Local Government Reorganisation – Councillor Sarah Wakefield.
To provide a verbal update assisted by the Director of Internal Operations, Alison North
This verbal report was introduced by Executive Councillor for Local Government Reorganisation – Councillor Sarah Wakefield, and supported by the Director of Internal Operations, Alison North. Alison presented a series of slides which explained the current position.
The overall position is that works are progressing, despite considerable pressure on staff and there has been some slippage with dates. It is hoped that this will be addressed now that the new CEO, Duncan Sharkey is in post. (His start date was delayed due to overseeing Operation London Bridge, at his previous Council, The Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead). One of his first areas of business will be to look at his senior management team and get them into post so that he can start working on the new Council’s priorities.
The presentation slides are available to view here.
Comments from the floor included: -
· Concern about the transfer of the Council Housing stock, which was one of SWT’s biggest assets, and keeping tenants informed of the process.This falls under the responsibility of the Housing Directorate and James Barrah. This is a “Tranche 1 product” so is considered of vital importance and will need to be up and running on Day1 of the new authority. All processes are being implemented to ensure a safe and efficient transfer, so that tenants are not adversely affected. Tenants are being kept up to date via the website, tenant groups and newsletters so they are informed as much as possible.
· Will all existing documents that transfer to the new authority be accessible by whatever new website/platform is being used? Yes, they will. The Council is under a legal obligation to ensure that all public documents are retained and will be made as accessible as possible.
· General comment was made about the importance of transparency and making sure that everyone was well informed on the processes. Can dialogue remain open and staff made aware of the implications of TUPE and moving away from silo thinking so that knowledge and reassurance is shared across the Council.All staff currently employed by SWT will transfer to the new authority on vesting day, on the same terms and conditions they are currently contracted for. (TUPE). This also includes all assets, housing, informationand data. In areas of the business that currently employ agency staff, this will be reviewed. (As they are not employees of the Council, they are not under the same contractual obligations).
· At the current time where there is pressure on services due to staffing issues, these gaps are being filled via the “Mutual Aid” policy which is where one or more of the five councils assists another. Alternatively, in some of the statutory services such as planning, agency workers are proving a necessity unfortunately. This is unavoidable due to the national shortage of planning officers, and they can be more expensive to engage.
· What is happening to all the historic information like Minutes and Emails for those Councillors who will not be engaged after the 1 April?There is a legal requirement to retain all Minutes of past Council meetings and official documentation. This is being managed according to the Council’s retention and GDPR policies. All ICT equipment that is currently held by staff and SWT Councillors will need to be handed back prior to vesting day so that it can be wiped and if necessary re-distributed.
· Councillors expressed a wish to help staff as they transition to the new Council. It would be helpful if they are made aware of any existing pressures on services, so that they can provide reassurance to staff and customers.
Cllr Aldridge joined the meeting at 7.00pm
· How will ICT equipment be transferred and or implemented to those Cllrs who are likely to form the shadow Taunton Town Council?Amy Tregellas advised that a detailed implementation plan on the Community Governance Review (CGR) including ICT requirements was currently being drawn up and would be a public document as part of the democratic process.
· A query was raised about the precept setting for the 22/23 Council Tax and which authority was responsible for this and what mechanism would be used? Somerset County Council as the continuing council for the new Somerset Council was in the process of setting the precept, taking into account the challenges presented by the Medium-Term Financial Plan, the rising costs associated with Adult Social Care and the high likelihood of no trickle-down grants from Central Government this year. There is a workstream within the LGR process, which is solely concerned with this area, and will ensure that Council Tax bills are sent out with the new branding within the legal timescales to ensure that payments can be made from April 1st 2023. Parish Councils should be setting their own precepts based on their own spending requirements and budgets. It is unlikely that there will be any changes to assets in the short term, so they should precept as normal for their usual services.
Cllr Ed Firmin left the meeting at 7.20pm
Cllr Buller wrapped up the discussion by thanking Cllr Wakefield and Alison North for the update. She was reassured by the action being taken and pleased that this monthly standing item, was providing a valuable insight into the work being undertaken under the LGR programme.
Cllrs were asked to note the report.
(Prop: Buller / Sec: Wren – unanimous)