Agenda, decisions and draft minutes

Venue: 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

270.

Apologies for Absence

Minutes:

Apologies for absence were received from Councillors Hayward Burt, Malcolm Cavill, Karl Gill, David Gubbins, Henry Hobhouse, Jenny Kenton, Graham Oakes, Tiffany Osborne, Clare Paul, and Lucy Trimnell.

271.

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.

272.

Public Question Time

Minutes:

A local resident addressed Council.  He said that at the last Council meeting he had asked if the Government Minister had been contacted regarding the proposed referendum, and if so, what had been his response?   He further asked what the forecast cost of conducting the poll and any publicity surrounding it, and, the cost of the legal advice taken pertaining to the poll proposal.  He also asked if the Council would take any steps to mitigate the impact of social media and leaflet information already sent to residents.  He asked if the polling paper and accompanying paperwork mention any political party or the different Council’s proposals.  He concluded by asking how residents who had already responded to the Government’s consultation did not duplicate their views when taking part in the referendum which could cause false accounting?  He noted that he had not yet received a written response to his questions asked at the last Council meeting.

 

The Leader of Council responded with an apology as she thought a reply had already been sent.  She said there would be no mention of political parties on the ballot paper as it was a cross party proposal.  She said the Stronger Somerset name reflected the District Council’s proposal and was not intended to imply any particular message over the One Somerset proposal.  She also felt that residents should know which option each council was supporting on the polling paper.   The cost of the legal advice taken was not yet known.   

 

273.

Chairman's Announcements

Minutes:

The Chairman drew Members attention to the supplementary information circulated earlier in the day – letters from Robert Jenrick MP and Marcus Fysh MP and also the response by the Leader to questions raised by the Conservative Group.

 

The Chairman also reminded Members to treat each other with dignity and respect during the debate.

274.

Local Referendum on the Future of Local Government in Somerset pdf icon PDF 518 KB

Additional documents:

Decision:

 

RESOLVED:

That Council agreed:-

 

a.

to hold a local authority poll (local referendum) of all residents of South Somerset on the Electoral Register at 6th May 2021 who are eligible to vote in local elections, on the two options for the future of local government in Somerset;

                

 

b.

to conduct the local authority poll as a postal and online referendum and appoint Civica Electoral Services to conduct the poll;

 

 

c.

the poll be held commencing on Tuesday 18th May 2021 and closing at 5.00PM on Friday 4th June 2021;

 

 

d.

to hold the local authority poll jointly with such other Somerset Councils that agree and to share the costs of the poll with those councils;

 

 

e.

the poll will follow the single non-transferable vote system and the question to be asked will be:

 

“Which of the two options for change in local government in Somerset to replace the existing five councils do you support (select one only):

 

          i.       One council for Somerset (“One Somerset” - the plan for a single council proposed by Somerset County Council)

        ii.       Two councils for Somerset: Eastern Somerset and Western Somerset (“Stronger Somerset” the plan for two councils for Somerset – an Eastern and a Western Somerset council –proposed by the South Somerset District Council  and the other district councils of Somerset)

 

f.

to delegate the role of Counting Officer to Civica Electoral Services;

 

 

g.

to make such resources, including staff resources, as necessary to the Counting Officer to enable the referendum to be conducted;

 

 

h.

to delegate to the Chief Executive, the authority to take any further action necessary in relation to this matter;

 

 

i.

to write to the Secretary of State to inform him of the referendum and its dates and ask that the result of the referendum be properly considered as part of the decision making process on the future of local government in Somerset;

 

Reason:

To agree to hold a local poll (referendum) to give residents a voice in the debate and help the Secretary of State in understanding and determining the level of support amongst residents for each of the options for the future of local government in Somerset.

(Voting: 35 in favour, 11 against, 0 abstentions)

Minutes:

The Leader of Council said that the residents of Somerset should be allowed a vote on the future of local government and how services were delivered in Somerset, as it involved their future.  The Government’s consultation was not correct for Somerset and should have included further consultees.  She said the she had responded to a number of questions submitted by the Conservative Group. She noted the District Executive had commended the recommendations to Full Council.

 

The Chairman noted that the report had been discussed at an informal meeting of the Scrutiny Committee earlier that week and by the District Executive that morning.  It was now for Full Council to decide.

 

In response to questions from Members, the Leader of Council and the Chief Executive replied:-

 

·         The cost of the referendum to SSDC would be in the region of £92,000 depending upon the number of people voting.

·         The referendum questions had been checked by an independent expert on electoral, who had suggested amendments to the original draft and officers were satisfied it complied with Electoral Commission guidance.

·         Legal opinion on the referendum had been taken from Bevan Brittan Solicitors and James Goudie QC.  The legal opinion was sought to clarify the legal advice.  The QC advice cost £3,300.

·         In September 2020, the Government did not intend to hold a referendum but once their consultation document was published, the Somerset District Councils decided the people of Somerset should be asked their opinion. 

·         An equality impact assessment had been carried out.

·         The cost of conducting the poll included the cost of return postage.

·         All opinions would be taken into account and the Secretary of State had a duty to take account of all available information.  It would be disappointing if he made his decision prior to the conclusion of the poll.

 

During discussion, the following points were made:-

 

·         Comments on social media should not be relied upon to provide responses to the consultation.

·         The Secretary of State should have as much information as possible from the residents of Somerset before taking his decision. 

·         There was value in the expenditure on the poll in Wednesbury principles.

·         Parish Councils were not specifically consulted by the Government but were able to submit a view in the general Government consultation.

·         The Government’s on-line consultation was difficult to complete and could have been completed on-line multiple times by any person.

·         The decision should not be political and would cost SSDC £92,000.  The cost of consulting solicitors and a QC were not available.

·         The Council should spend their money on providing services to the public.

·         It was not known if Town or Parish Councils would have a greater workload if a unitary authority were formed and they had the opportunity to respond to the Government consultation, either as a council or an individual.

·         There would be less Councillors under either Unitary Authority option.

·         The poll would not be political and residents should be allowed their opinion on the proposals.

·         SSDC had fully engaged in the process and had fully  ...  view the full minutes text for item 274.

275.

Date of Next Meeting pdf icon PDF 116 KB

Minutes:

Members noted that the Annual meeting of the Full Council would be held on Wednesday 5th May as a virtual meeting via Zoom meeting software, commencing at 6.30pm.