Councillor Thorne's July report to the parish council as follows:
• Finances – Again, I lead off on finances. I’ve previously reported the underspend on the 18/19 financial year was £5.9 million. We have used £4.2 million of it to increase general reserves to just over £16 million, which is considered a prudent level for an authority our size. The auditors become concerned when reserves fall below about £15 million. Again, as mentioned previously, we still face tough times and there remains a ‘significant level of uncertainty’ about this year’s budget due to a reliance on one-off grants, increasing demand, and the unknown outcomes from the ongoing Government reviews of funding for local government. Of our £328 million net budget, £58 million can be described as ‘uncertain’ or ‘one-off’, which includes more than £30 million of funding for adult social care.
• Members Improving Lives Grant Scheme’ – Breaking news here, as only this afternoon (Tuesday) I have finally seen the detail about the workings of the £2,000 fund to which each councillor has access. The money comes out of the above pot mentioned in the next bullet point. Councillors can submit bids between September 1 and November 30. It is intended to support projects which reduce loneliness and isolation, improve emotional health and wellbeing, and bring people together, particularly vulnerable or less advantaged groups. A maximum of four bids can be submitted, which would of course mean 4 x £500, but there is no minimum or maximum sum. It is likely that only parish councils or established voluntary sector organisations will receive the grants as they cannot be made to individuals or to directly help an identifiable individual. There is quite a lot to explain on this one, so I will shortly issue a briefing paper with more of the detail for all parishes to consider.
• Improving Lives to Prevent Demand Fund – This differs from the above in that it is a larger pot of money - £850,000, and it will be officers who bid for the grants. Bids that are accepted will then have to be worked up into a full business case. The principles are similar to the above, but bids have to specifically show how the project will help to reduce future demand on council services. Again, I will go into more detail about this one in a briefing paper for all parishes.
• Broadband –Connecting Devon and Somerset (CDS) has given Gigaclear to end of this month to produce plans which are acceptable to it and to the Government, but I am hearing that CDS won’t be able to approve any plans anyway because they cannot commit to funding them until the Government’s funding review in the autumn, when they will find out if the public subsidy will be extended until the end of the period Gigaclear is asking for, which is 2023.
• School fencing – I have today (Tuesday) signed off on a fencing/safeguarding/accessibility project at the primary school. The work needed to be approved immediately in order that it can be completed before the start of the new school year in September when a child with accessibility issues will be starting. However, I have expressed concerns at the £79,600 cost of the project which is almost double the original budget of £40,000. The increase has been put down to inflation over the three years that the scheme has been delayed and to the building being listed and set in an AONB, as well as the fact the site topography means much of the fencing will have to be dug in by hand as machinery cannot be used. I accept the digging by hand argument, but the fact the building is listed and in an AONB has been known all along, so I feel the estimating should have been more accurate. Last year I came across a very similar instance with another fencing project in Blagdon Hill where the county’s estimates were way out in almost every element of the work. The way estimates are prepared is now being looked into.
• Libraries outreach vehicle – Originally designed as a children’s services vehicle for Oxfordshire Libraries, the vehicle has now been re-branded with a striking new design which reflects the dynamic and vibrant Somerset Libraries service offer and kitted out with cutting-edge technology to provide an exciting new way to further extend the reach of the service. Somerset Libraries has an established outreach programme which has also been highlighted through the recent service redesign process and by the autumn we will have outreach officers in post to further develop this offer. The vehicle presents additional opportunities to showcase the diverse range of Somerset library services, with targeted activities for hard to reach communities throughout the county. We will soon be supporting a variety of activities at schools, community events, business support activities, and family fun days
• A358 – I’m sure everybody will have heard about the announcement of a preferred route, which is essentially the pink route from the three on which Highways England consulted, with a few modifications. Personally, I think it is the best we could hope for as it certainly meets all the main demands which I was making, which was that there should not be a new M5 junction, it should connect to the motorway via J25, a proper by-pass should be provided for Henlade, a junction was needed to connect the A378, and it should stick as close as possible to the existing carriageway. There will be a statutory consultation later in the process of approving the route and the community forums will continue to operate with the next meeting in two or three weeks’ time I believe. Work will start in the second Road Investment Strategy period of 2020-25. There is still quite a lot to be agreed in terms of the section of road between West Hatch and Ilminster for access via a new junction and closure of side roads. There has been a little bit of confusion about some consultation dates which are happening currently, but these are only for affected landowners and they will each have received a letter from HE inviting them to attend.
• Mental Health Training – Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) is a two-day introductory course, aimed at people who want to feel more confident, competent, and comfortable in dealing with mental health problems. The next course is running on Fridays August 9 and 16. Anyone wishing to apply for a place should email PublicHealthTraining@somerset.gov.uk by Monday, July 15.
• Foster Carers – County has recently launched a new scheme to encourage friends, family, and communities to consider fostering. Anyone submitting a recommendation that leads to approval of new foster parents will receive a £150 ‘thank you’ payment. County will also put £100 into a fund that can pay for or subsidise activities for children. To find out more, call our fostering team on 0800 587 9900.
• Surface dressing programme – This year’s programme to improve roads and stop potholes forming is now underway. Surface dressing seals the road to improve skid resistance and stop water getting under the surface which helps stop potholes forming and can add 10 years to the life of a road. This year we are covering 140 miles of road at 138 different locations. The work is weather dependent. You can check which roads are included as part of this year’s programme, check provisional dates and find out more about surface dressing at www.travelsomerset.co.uk/surface-dressing and you can also stay up to date by following @TravelSomerset on Twitter.
• SCC website – County has revamped its website in the first of a series of improvements to the council's online offer with a focus on enabling people to find the services they want quickly and easily. Next up is to look at content within the site, and work with services and users to review and improve it. They will also refine and add new areas where customers can carry out transactions and will reduce the number of websites the council has, concentrating its online presence into one place. The website link is here if anybody wants to have a look https://www.somerset.gov.uk/.
Sort by type