Agenda, decisions and draft minutes

Venue: Virtual Meeting - Virtual Meeting using Zoom meeting software. View directions

Contact: Angela Cox, Democratic Services Specialist - 01935 462148  Email: angela.cox@southsomerset.gov.uk

Items
No. Item

158.

Apologies for Absence

Minutes:

There were no apologies for absence.

159.

Declarations of Interest

In accordance with the Council's current Code of Conduct (as amended 26 February 2015), which includes all the provisions relating to Disclosable Pecuniary Interests (DPI), personal and prejudicial interests, Members are asked to declare any DPI and also any personal interests (and whether or not such personal interests are also "prejudicial") in relation to any matter on the Agenda for this meeting.

Members are reminded that they need to declare the fact that they are also a member of a County, Town or Parish Council as a Personal Interest. Where you are also a member of Somerset County Council and/or a Town or Parish Council within South Somerset you must declare a prejudicial interest in any business on the agenda where there is a financial benefit or gain or advantage to Somerset County Council and/or a Town or Parish Council which would be at the cost or to the financial disadvantage of South Somerset District Council. 

Minutes:

There were no declarations of interest made by Members.

160.

Public Question Time

Minutes:

The Committee were addressed by a representative of Somerset Independents, a group formed during the Covid-19 emergency by local residents to voice the democratic rights of the residents of Somerset.  He advised that at a poll conducted in 2007, 82% of residents had voted against a proposed Unitary Authority at that time.  He suggested that another poll be held to gauge public opinion on the latest proposed Unitary Authority and a Citizens Assembly be held to discuss changes to how Somerset would be governed.  He said they had written to all Councillors and he thanked those who had responded on this request.  He concluded by asking Members to commit the Council by a motion to hold a referendum to gauge public opinion on the latest proposed Unitary Authority and to show their support through social media.

 

The Chairman thanked the representative of the Somerset Independents group and said that his comments were noted.  She said it was not within the gift of the Council to call a referendum on the issue but it would be discussed and a Motion may be proposed in the future.

161.

Chairman's Announcements

Minutes:

The Chairman thanked all officers for their work during the Covid-19 pandemic to keep Council services operating and Councillors who had worked in their communities to keep residents informed. 

162.

The Future of Local Government in Somerset: "One Somerset" Business Case for a single unitary council pdf icon PDF 589 KB

Additional documents:

Decision:

 

RESOLVED:

That District Executive recommend that Full Council agree the following response to Somerset County Council’s “One Somerset” Business Case:-

That South Somerset District Council recommends that Option (c) of the report is adopted, with the commentary that follows

Option c. Agree that [SSDC] does not support the business case overall, with supporting commentary on the reasons why it does not support the business case; where it feels more work or clarification is required; and any aspects of the business case it does support.

Commentary

Summary statement:

“SSDC believes that this is a solution put forward by a discredited authority based on failed examples of change, with inadequate evidence and a high risk of bad outcomes for residents and communities.”

The reasons why SSDC does not support the business case; and where more work or clarification is required

1.   The proposed unitary authority is based on failed examples of local government which have lost vital local services and democratic accountability. SSDC cannot support a risky experiment to suffer a similar fate:

-        Currently, residents, businesses and communities are supported by high-performing districts that have demonstrated sound financial management and digital transformation, and have a mandate to deliver valuable discretionary services (such as town centre regeneration, theatres and swimming pools). The county administration has focussed on tax cuts not needs, reducing budgets to the point of service failure (transport, social care, special educational needs and disabilities) and abandoning other service areas, relying on others to fund them (youth services). This business case extends that approach over key services delivered by Districts which are valued by business and residents.

-        The ‘One Somerset’ business case relies on evidence from other single county unitaries, including neighbouring Wiltshire, and recent unitaries where it is too early to measure success. Wiltshire is reported to be on the verge of issuing a S114 bankruptcy notice. Wiltshire’s Local Council Networks (Area Boards) have been a conspicuous failure with little funding, autonomy and officer resource, and very limited devolution to parish and town councils. Local Council Networks on this model will in no measure replace the quality of service of the District Councils. Dorset has failed to devolve services to parishes, and a period of paralysis has followed the implementation of single unitary authorities, that can ill be afforded in the aftermath of Brexit and Covid-19.

-        Alternative options to the single unitary are given only superficial analysis.

-        The business case fails to recognise the transformation necessary in the delivery of social care.

 

2.   A single Somerset unitary is too big for effective local democracy in Somerset, and will lead to a substantial democratic deficit:

-        If two tiers of local government are to be reduced to one tier, it makes no sense for the new tier to be at the level of one of the previous tiers.

-        The government’s aspirations for devolved authorities are based on Local Enterprise Partnership areas (in our case, Somerset combined with Devon). A unitary for the whole  ...  view the full decision text for item 162.

Minutes:

The Chairman advised that the Somerset Councils had been debating joint working for 2 years and all agreed that change was needed.  In January 2020 the SCC had announced that they would only pursue a single unitary option, which the other District Councils did not agree as they wished to investigate other options. She noted that the report listed a number of options for the response to the SCC One Somerset business case, of which the District Executive must propose one to Council that evening.

 

Councillor John Clark, Portfolio Holder for Economic Development, read out the proposed response of the District Executive working party to the SCC One Somerset Business Plan, following the presentation by SCC Council Leader, David Fothergill earlier in the week, as follows:-

 

That South Somerset District Council recommends that Option (c) of the report is adopted, with the commentary that follows:

Option c. Agree that [SSDC] does not support the business case overall, with supporting commentary on the reasons why it does not support the business case; where it feels more work or clarification is required; and any aspects of the business case it does support.

Commentary

Summary statement:

“SSDC believes that this is a solution put forward by a discredited authority based on failed examples of change, with inadequate evidence and a high risk of bad outcomes for residents and communities.”

The reasons why SSDC does not support the business case; and where more work or clarification is required

1.   The proposed unitary authority is based on failed examples of local government which have lost vital local services and democratic accountability. SSDC cannot support a risky experiment to suffer a similar fate:

-        Currently, residents, businesses and communities are supported by high-performing districts that have demonstrated sound financial management and digital transformation, and have a mandate to deliver valuable discretionary services (such as town centre regeneration, theatres and swimming pools). The county administration has focussed on tax cuts not needs, reducing budgets to the point of service failure (transport, social care, special educational needs and disabilities) and abandoning other service areas, relying on others to fund them (youth services). This business case extends that approach over key services delivered by Districts which are valued by business and residents.

-        The ‘One Somerset’ business case relies on evidence from other single county unitaries, including neighbouring Wiltshire, and recent unitaries where it is too early to measure success. Wiltshire is reported to be on the verge of issuing a S114 bankruptcy notice. Wiltshire’s Local Council Networks (Area Boards) have been a conspicuous failure with little funding, autonomy and officer resource, and very limited devolution to parish and town councils. Local Council Networks on this model will in no measure replace the quality of service of the District Councils. Dorset has failed to devolve services to parishes, and a period of paralysis has followed the implementation of single unitary authorities, that can ill be afforded in the aftermath of Brexit and Covid-19.

-        Alternative  ...  view the full minutes text for item 162.

163.

Date of Next Meeting

Members are asked to note that the next scheduled meeting of the District Executive will take place on Thursday, 6th August 2020 as a virtual meeting via Zoom meeting software commencing at 9.30 a.m.

 

Minutes:

Members noted that the next scheduled meeting of the District Executive would take place on Thursday 6th August 2020 as a virtual meeting via Zoom meeting software commencing at 9.30 a.m.