Somerset this week: 24 November
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Somerset this week: 24 November
Won’t come clean? Dirty toilets in Crewkerne
Somerset Confidential® has heard of some disquiet from residents in Crewkerne over the administration of the town council. The current contractor resigned feeling that the state the toilets were left in when they arrived to clean was simply unacceptable. All cleaners are there to clean, but there are limits.
So at the 30 October meeting of the town council councillors were invited to consider a new contractor. Although the details of each bid were hidden from the public, it was clear from the conversation that the new contract would result in a substantial hike in the cost to the council.
Cllr Bond though wanted to know which of the users of the centre was responsible for the state of the toilets. You might think that this was a reasonable line of enquiry. As Cllr Bond expressed it, if one user group was responsible for the state of the toilets, then they should be identified and in turn made responsible for the increase in the cost of the cleaning contract.
The Town Clerk noted that whilst the contract was on the agenda, discussing the state of the toilets was not. Something that to our view having watched the meeting, was taking procedural niceties to extremes. There was not any reason that we could see to close down the discussion. In our eyes at least, it seems to be directly relevant to the discussion of the cleaning contract.
Instead the clerk told councillors: “That’s not currently up for discussion tonight but if you want to revisit that you can.” Councillors appeared to indicate that they did. After all it would almost be irresponsible of them not to do so.
The expectation being the item would be added to the agenda of the next meeting. The Amenities Meeting came and went without anything on the agenda and the agenda for Full Town Council on 27 November has been published without any such item being included.
It is almost as if no-one wishes to find out who is behind the problem. Not so says the Town Clerk in response to a question from Somerset Confidential®: “I am following up separately on comments made about the changing rooms and will report back to members once I have received the information I am waiting for.”
No doubt either councillors or members of the public will be keeping beady eyes open for some follow up on this….
Two members of the Executive leave Somerset Council
Somerset Council is embroiled in a financial crisis. As if that was not enough, yesterday it was announced that two of its Executive, Mike Rigby (Highways, Transport and Digital) and Tessa Munt (Education) had resigned from the Executive. Their resignations to take effect on 31 December 2023. They will both remain as councillors.
Somerset Confidential® has heard that there is considerable wrangling over the best ways to try and safe money within the administration. Whether that had anything to do with the resignations, we cannot say.
Certainly Tessa Munt, former MP for Wells, will move on to fight the Wells and Mendip Hills constituency for the LibDems at the next General Election.
The council has to try and find £40m of savings to plug the hole in its finances for the current year. Parish and town councils are already being invited to take on more services – without the funding which goes with them, to help save Somerset Council.
The MP for Bridgwater & West Somerset, Ian Liddell Grainger has jumped into the fray: “As far as I can see at the moment there is nothing in it for the councils (ie the Parish and Town Councils) apart from more work. At the very least they should be entitled to retain car parking revenues to help mitigate the extra burden on taxpayers. If it’s all take and no give then every household in Somerset will end up shouldered with bigger council tax bills…”
If it’s all take and no give then every household in Somerset will end up shouldered with bigger council tax bills
Redundancy programmes are being discussed. But surely the council realise this will not help. In the year of redundancy, total employee costs will actually increase. Especially for long serving employees who would receive a larger severance package. Redundancy is usually calculated by reference to the number of years served. The savings only come in the following year when there are fewer employees.
Somerset Council issued a press release dealing with the resignations in which we were told: “Council Leader Bill Revans will use the opportunity to review the membership of Executive to help reduce costs as the council responds to the financial emergency.” Whilst worthy, given the cost of an Executive portfolio holder is just £20,150, even if both posts were abolished, it would lead to a saving of barely £40,000. And the black hole in the finances is some £40m. It is almost at the point of being a false economy.
Mike Rigby was a rising star of the administration whose track record of success both in restoring a decimated planning team at Somerset West & Taunton and managing to keep bus services up and running in the face of a meagre government settlement, will be a big loss. It was his initiative to restore the Park & Ride and introduce the £1 regional fare for bus services around Taunton.
He intends to return to a role where he can use his skills as a qualified planning executive.
Local Town Council Elections
As an increasingly cash starved Somerset Council seeks to move services down to parishes and towns, more attention is bound to be paid to parish and town council elections. In future that is where many of the services and much of the cash being spent on local matters is likely to be centred.
As of this week there have been three announced for the period up until Christmas.
In Bridgwater the recent death of long serving councillor (and former Mayor) Alex Glassford means there will be a by-election for Fairfax East Ward. Previously a strong Labour seat, Labour will be represented by Megan Boucher. Standing against her will be former Labour councillor, now Conservative candidate, Diogo Rodrigues. That could be a bitterly fought contest. Anthony Nickolls will be standing for the LibDems and the field is completed with Independent Pele Barnes.
The Fairfax East by election will be held on 18 December from 7am to 10pm.
There’s a vacancy in Highbridge Ward on Burnham and Highbridge Town Council too. That will be contested in a three way fight between Laura Chalmers (LibDem), Alistair Hendry (Conservative) and Katie Pearce (Labour).
The Highbridge by election will also be held on 18 December from 7am to 10pm.
The last time Abbey Manor South Ward was contested for Yeovil Town Council, there was just one candidate. In the event the LibDem Liam Watts lasted just over a year before resigning. The contest to replace him will at least be a contest this time with three candidates. The LibDems pretty much take success for granted in Yeovil so their candidate, the only one of the three not to give a Yeovil address, Aimi Chivers will be expecting to win.
Hoping to upset the apple cart will be local Labour stalwart Terry Ledlie and Adrian Wilkes of Yeovil Independents. This is another of those groups that have sprung up around Somerset hoping to rid our town councils of political parties. It has worked in Frome and is having some success in both Shepton Mallet and Wells. But in South Somerset success has been harder to come by. There are two Independents on Chard Town Council but to date there is just one in Yeovil.
Yeovil Independents only launched on 8 October so this is very much a new venture. They state “Yeovil Independents believe that there is no place in local decision making for party politics and party policy. We believe that our local areas should be supported by people who care wholeheartedly for the town and are not aligned to the the political party running Somerset in Taunton.
This is the start of a long journey for Yeovil Independents, Yeovil Town and the surrounding area. Over the next three years we will be standing against the established political party who has been running Yeovil for the past 40 years. Each win we achieve in elections against the political parties allows us to obtain more and more say in how Yeovil evolves.”
The Abbey Manor South by-election will be held on 14 December from 7am to 10pm.
Burrowbridge gets more dredging
Once upon a time the very idea of dredging either the Parrett or the Tone near where they meet in Burrowbridge would have been greeted with excitement. If not astonishment.
Especially after The Leveller revealed in an exclusive that the Environment Agency had sold off all of its dredgers. That was a decade ago. Today the Somerset Rivers Authority is in charge and regular dredging is the norm rather than the exception.
Even so that does not mean that more cannot be done. The board met on 3 November under the Chairmanship of Somerset Councillor Mike Stanton. A paper was presented that proposed increasing the budget for dredging the Tone and Parrett in the vicinity of Burrowbridge. The fact the two rivers join there leads to a rapid build up of silt. So regular dredging has taken place since 2014 with an annual budget for 2023/24 of some £68,000.
The SRA board meeting was asked to approve an increase in the funding allocated to Parrett and Tone Maintenance Dredging of £129,760 to the end of financial year 2023-24. The idea being to go beyond the repeat cycle of the annual maintenance dredging works and to agree to a trial of further desilting the upper banks.
Dredging the main channel keeps the depth of the rivers intact. But as silt builds up on the bank the width of the channel narrows.
Over the past few years silt build up has occurred in the upper banks of both rivers. So the plan is to desilt the banks into the river just ahead of the dredgers removing the silt from the main channel. This should, in theory at least, lead to all the silt being removed and the channel of both rivers being widened.
It is acknowledged that this is not an established process and therefore it is a bit of an experiment. If it works, it may be extended in future years.
this is not an established process and therefore it is a bit of an experiment
The meeting dutifully approved the extra funds.
It will surely be seen by local residents as a major step forward. No longer do they have to advocate for dredging to happen at all. Now it is a given and not only that, new methods of doing it are part of the picture too.
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