The Chairman advised that Chief Inspector Sharon Baker of Avon & Somerset Police would be attending the next Full Council meeting on 17th October to provide a brief introduction and overview of Policing for members followed by questions.
The Chairman reminded all Councillors to complete their GDPR refresher training as soon as possible.
The Chairman reported that he had been touring various Council services and sites during August to thank staff for their commitment during Transformation. He said that the council was fortunate to have both natural and cultural assets but he said the greatest asset were the staff. He said that during his tour all staff had been professional, loyal and hard working. He thanked them all for the work they provided on behalf of the council.
The Chairman advised that he had the honour and privileged to attend a memorial service on behalf of the late Lord Paddy Ashdown at Westminster Abbey in London the previous week. He noted that 4 former Prime Ministers attended along with many politicians from all parties and many Liberal Democrat members. He advised that Lord Ashdown had cared deeply about the country and his beloved Somerset and especially South Somerset.
Finally, the Chairman thanked Councillor Kaysar Hussain for hosting an enjoyable visit to the Yeovil Mosque recently and for the impressive lunch provided.
The Leader of Council provided Members with a briefing on the Council’s preparations for Brexit. She advised that the issues were the continuing uncertaintyover the likely outcome, timings and impacts which made planning and preparation challenging. She said a full assessment of the risks was being led by SCC and they had been identified as:
o Citizenship and Workforce. There were potential impacts particularly in health and social care, haulage, construction, seasonal pickers and veterinary services. These would be mitigated by the EU Settled Status Scheme.
o Business and Economy (incl Agriculture). Changes in regulatory requirements; the possible loss of export markets; supply chain issues; cost growth in raw materials and utilities, all could challenge businesses – especially to SMEs and those less prepared and less resilient. This was mitigated by more and clearer guidance on .gov.uk website; streamlining of EU trading registration; UK funding to backfill loss of EU funds; rural charities and NFU ramping up mental health support services.
o Supply Chain. This was most likely to affect medicines and medical equipment, and fresh/perishable foodstuffs, which was compounded by a lack of warehousing capacity nationally. Fuel shortages were unlikely but rumor and speculation may lead to panic buying.
o Concurrent Risks. Pressure elsewhere on responders and partners may limit mutual aid across boundaries. So response to issues such as severe weather may be sub-optimal.
She said that SSDC’s preparations included:
- Partnership working. SSDC are closely networked with MHCLG, Local Resilience Forum, Somerset Local Authorities, HoSW Local Enterprise Partnership and other community, business and voluntary groups. The network was continually sharing information and updating risk assessments and response plans.
- Communications. We are ensuring our website signposts visitors to the most up to date information. Our internal Staff Portal also has the most current guidance documents for Local Authorities. Both are updated as soon as new information is received. Customer Focus Officers will receive bespoke briefings to help them deal with face to face and telephone enquiries.
- Contingency Planning. As part of our Civil Contingencies capability we have well established protocols for emergency planning. These have been adapted to suit the likely demands of (a no-deal) Brexit and those involved have been reminded of the part they play. Practice drills were being considered in the run up to 31 October.
In response to questions from Members, the Leader and Chief Executive replied:-
· a Specialist Project Officer had been working on the project for over 12 months and the statement provided by him covered what the Government had asked Local Authorities to do.
· SSDC had been allocated £35,000 over two years by the Government to make the preparations.
During a brief discussion it was noted that a Press Release should be issued to encourage any settled European migrants in the district to apply for settled status.
Councillor Peter Seib, Portfolio Holder for Finance and Legal Services, provided Members with an update on the Government’s recent spending review. He said that whilst overall there was an increase in funding in a number of areas including social care and children’s services, there was not much for local government. The fair funding review and Business Rates review would not happen before 2021. There would be no Business Rates pilot in 2020 so the current Somerset Pilot would definitely be for one year only. New Homes Bonus remained under review by Ministers and it was a concern that this funding would be significantly reduced in future. Indications were that the Council Tax increase cap of 2% was likely although the current MTFP assumption was an increase of 2.99% which would impact on the Medium Term Financial Plan. He concluded that whilst excellent progress had been made towards the £6m savings target, greater savings would be required.
The Chairman concluded that Agenda item 8: Presentation from St Margaret’s Somerset Hospice had been withdrawn from the Agenda and their Chief Executive would attend a future Council meeting.