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New Somerset Council update – 1 February 2022

Posted on 2nd February, 2022 in News

Thank you for your continued interest in the New Somerset Council. We have made a lot of progress since our last email.

Work to prepare for the biggest local elections Somerset has seen for a long time is well underway. These crucial elections are for the councillors at county level who will oversee the transition to a new unitary council, which they will then lead to deliver all the promises and ambitions of the unitary business case.

The city, town and parish councillors elected have a vital role too, ushering in a new era of community empowerment. They will be pioneers, drawing on an array of new opportunities, driving real change locally.

We are calling on people from all walks of life, to stand for election now. For people with the vision and drive to lead their communities, there really is no greater privilege than serving as an elected councillor, especially during such an historic time.

The deadline for applying to stand is 5 April, for more details on how to apply see: https://www.somerset.gov.uk/how-the-council-works/elections/

Managing elections is a big operation. We’ll have nearly 500 polling stations and 1,200 staff, from county and districts working together to make it happen.

It’s an important vote for Somerset, so please encourage everyone you know to have their say at the ballot box. The deadline for registering for postal votes is 19 April: https://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/i-am-a/voter/apply-vote-post

Next steps towards a new council

The big news on the LGR programme is that we are about to move into the implementation phase. Work so far, has focused on building the processes and gathering the information we need to manage a smooth transition. That work is nearly done.

So, what’s next? The senior officers of all five councils have been working together to develop a high-level blueprint for the new organisation. This will give elected councillors clear choices about the kind of organisation they want to lead as they deliver the business case.

Setting the vision and values, the approach to service provision, budget, staffing structure and timeline, will all be overseen by members elected in May. However, it’s important that decisions can be made up to and throughout the election period.

Decision-making arrangements are set out in the government’s proposals, laid in Parliament, to agree the legal changes need to establish a new council. The proposals in this Structural Changes Order will be debated in the coming weeks and approval is expected early in March.

Meetings this week

The Local Government Reorganisation (LGR) Joint Committee will meet on Friday (4 February) to make decisions on important budgetary issues.

The committee will consider a protocol to limit the spending of the five existing councils in certain areas. This is a commitment from each council to act responsibly in their final year and avoid major sales or purchases of assets, such as buildings and land, which might constrain the new council when it assumes responsibility next year.

The LGR Joint Committee is also expected to approve a recommendation to extend existing grant funding to Voluntary Community and Social Enterprise organisations, for the first year of the new council. If approved, this will be the first piece of the new council’s budget that is set – an action needed to give these organisations the stability they need to continue delivering valued services across the county.

Members of the public are welcome to view the LGR Joint committee meeting. You can join online at this link.

The LGR Advisory Board will also meet this week, on Thursday (3 February). Everyone is welcome to these meetings to join the discussion and share ideas that can help shape the new council.

This week Dr Carlton Brand, the retiring LGR Programme Director, will give his final public update. Alyn Jones, who has been with the LGR Programme from the start overseeing development of Local Community Networks (LCNS), has been appointed as Carlton’s successor. Alyn will outline his priorities as well as updating on the LCN pilots. There will also be further discussion on improving communications as we move into the delivery phase.

You can join the discussion online at this link.

Local Community Networks

The LCN pilots are providing vital insights into how these powerful local committees of the new council, can influence local services and decisions.

The Exmoor pilot is focused on highway services. Proposals including an LCN Highway Steward are being trialled. If successful, is it hoped that this model could then be replicated across the county.

In the Frome area pilot, focusing on children, families and young people, sport and recreation has already been identified for urgent intervention. A third pilot has now been established in the Wincanton, Bruton and Castle Cary area. This will consider health and wellbeing.

We will look forward to updating you on the work of LCNs which will bring unitary councillors together with city, towns and parishes and a range of local representatives, to influence decisions in their area.

Please continue to check our website www.newsomersetcouncil.org.uk for news and updates.

Thank you for your continued interest in the important changes taking place in our county, David Fothergill, Leader of Somerset County Council and Chair of the LGR Joint Committee Val Keitch, Leader of South Somerset District Council and Vice-Chair of the LGR Joint Committee