South Somerset stays Lib Dem but with a new look as council meets
With many of the councillors being newly elected, it looked a very different council that met, but the dramatic change was the majority with the Liberal Democrats taking 41 of the 60 seats.
Cllr Val Keitch, who represents Ilminster, was nominated unopposed as Leader and will continue in the role she has undertaken since September, saying it was a great honour to do so. Cllr Peter Seib will be the Deputy Leader.
During the meeting, which took place on Tuesday 21 May, Cllr Tony Capozzoli stood down as South Somerset District Council Chairman saying it had been an honour and privilege to have held the role. Cllr Paul Maxwell was voted in as the new chairman with Cllr Jenny Kenton serving as vice chair (Cllr Mike Best had previously served in this post).
Cllr Maxwell said: “I want to thank both Tony and Mike for the superb jobs they did for this Council. I also want to give a warm welcome to our new councillors and I want this to be a Council where we treat each other with respect, regarding of political parties and views. We were elected to serve the people of South Somerset and we want to make them proud of this Council.”
The meeting saw portfolio holders – the elected council members who are responsible for different areas of the Council's work – appointed.
The portfolios have been redesigned to link more closely with the areas of work in the Council Plan, the document which sets out the vision and aims for the Council and how these are going to be delivered through areas of focus and priority projects. The current annual action plan and priority projects were approved unanimously by Full Council in February 2019.
All change at Mendip as new look council meets
Mendip’s new look council met last night bringing together the district’s 47 councillors for the first time since the elections took place earlier this month.
With over half of the councillors being newly elected, it was a very different council that met, not only was there a dramatic change in the leadership after the Liberal Democrats took 22 of the 47 seats, but the make-up of the council looked very different with over a third of the council made up of female councillors. Four of those taking on the roles of Leader, Deputy Leader, Chair and Deputy Chair.
Cllr Ros Wyke takes over as Leader, supported by a cabinet, which is a mix of former and newly elected councillors. Cllr Helen Sprawson-White takes on the role of Chair with Cllr Bente Height supporting as Deputy Chair.
In her opening speech as Leader of Mendip District Council, Cllr Ros Wyke, said; “The opportunity to address this council, this new council, as leader of the largest group and leader of Mendip is a great privilege and responsibility.
“I lead a group of people who are younger, more diverse and I am proud to say, more gender balanced than ever before. It’s my strongly held belief that when we bring people with different views and life experiences together to make decisions, we achieve better results for the people we are here to represent.”
Remarking on collaboration and the council working across party boundaries to achieve positive change for Mendip’s residents and communities, Cllr Wyke, said; “Just as for the suffragettes – deeds, not words, must be our motto.”
In her closing comments Cllr Wyke mentioned all the those that the council is there to serve, from the shopkeepers and market traders in England’s smallest city – Wells, the market towns of Frome, Glastonbury, Shepton Mallet and the village of Street, to the farmers and residents of the many rural communities.
Cllr Wyke, said; “We councillors are all amazingly proud to represent this beautiful part of our ancient County of Somerset.
“As we move forward, approaching our work for Mendip, we should try to forget what divides us politically, and remember the people who put us here. We’re public servants to the citizens of Mendip, and it’s in that spirit that our work begins tonight.”
Following her election by council as Chair, Cllr Helen Sprawson-White, set out her plans to focus on health and education during her time as Chair. Cllr Sprawson-White, said; “As Chair I believe it is important that we send a clear message to our communities that we are an authority that is approachable, transparent and inclusive. I want all residents, members and officers to feel a real sense of pride and belonging to Mendip, working together to deliver effective outcomes and I will do all I can to break down any barriers that are in place to make this happen.”
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Opposition councillors demand extraordinary council meeting as Somerset heads towards bankruptcy
Somerset’s Lib Dem county councillors have called on the chair of Somerset County Council to hold an extraordinary meeting to explain the Conservatives’ emergency budget in more detail and ensure that it is sufficiently robust to prevent Government officials stepping in and shutting down the County Council.
“The fact that the annual budget set in February – complete with £11 million of cuts – has clearly failed to plug the gaps and they are now on another £11 million round of cuts, should be a flashing warning sign to everyone that the cabal of eight Conservative councillors making these decisions is financially incompetent,” says Jane Lock, Lib Dem councillor and Opposition Leader.
“On top of that £5 million of previously unacknowledged overspend has come out of the woodwork. And we still haven’t had a satisfactory answer on why another £4.9 million extra payment has been handed to an outside contractor for care services.
“Looking at the latest statement, it appears that over £7 million of unrecorded overspend was shunted forward into this year’s budget.
“For a party that prides itself on its financial acumen, they are not very good at arithmetic. We have no confidence that the latest painful cuts to essential services will deliver the savings required to save the County from bankruptcy.
“Bringing officers and councillors together at an extraordinary meeting to explain how they have reached this point, and where Somerset goes from here, is essential.
“If this latest budget does not deliver the savings the Tories are touting, it will lead to the catastrophic situation where the Government sends in the commissioners to run our local affairs from Westminster.”
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Lib Dem contacts for comment / interviews:
Jane Lock 07810 706271 / Tessa Munt 07714 599669
As members of the main opposition at Mendip District Council, we are very concerned about the proposed introduction of parking charges on Sundays in Frome, which is recommendation 4 in the item 10 report (Car Park Charges Review) to Mendip’s Cabinet meeting on Monday 21st May. We share the concerns of Frome Town Council, Frome Independent market, Frome Chamber of Commerce, the Cheese and Grain, and over 2000 people who have signed the Town Council’s petition at www.change.org, that this could adversely affect community events, town trade and most worryingly, the financial and logistical viability of Frome Independent market, and that it needs to be reconsidered.
Mendip did consult the Town Council and others for 10 days on the idea in April (as well as proposed increases in charges), but every stakeholder in Frome raised serious concerns, so it would do great harm to the reputation of (Conservative-run) Mendip District Council to go ahead in the face of such opposition.
If there was a Lib Dem administration at Mendip, we would do better than this and develop a fairer parking strategy. We will therefore be asking Cabinet to reject Sunday car park charges in Frome (and Shepton Mallet), to assess the impacts, enter into a genuine dialogue with the Town Council and others, address their concerns, come to an amicable solution to support town business not harm it, and consult the town on the agreed outcome - before a decision is made.
As of 3pm on Friday the petition is now up to 5776 signatures
At a brief but wonderful ceremony on Saturday 24th March the first Changing Places toilet facility in the district was opened in Frome town centre at the main car park toilets, with drinks and cakes in the Black Swan's Round Tower. Alison and her daughter Ettie cut the ribbon with the Mayor of Frome Shiela Gore, the leader of Mendip Harvey Siggs, Cabinet member Phil Ham, and a large crowd of campaigners, councillors and other supporters.
This means that people with profound and multiple disabilities who need a toilet with more space and the right equipment, including a height adjustable changing bench and a hoist, now have somewhere to go in town. They and their families can now enjoy Frome's shops, cafes, markets and other attractions. No longer does anyone have to rush home or be changed in unhygienic conditions. People just need a Radar key to use it, or can borrow one from the library (and soon also the Black Swan and Cheese & Grain).
Somerset County Council Enters Bankruptcy Danger Zone
From The Times today
“Three Conservative-run counties have been added to the list of those showing signs of financial stress because of funding cuts.
Somerset, Norfolk and Lancashire county councils are exhibiting some of the warning signs demonstrated by Northamptonshire county council before it declared itself effectively bankrupt last month, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
Liberal Democrats at Somerset County Council are very disappointed over the news that libraries across Somerset are being put to consultation with the potential that a significant number could close, whilst at the same time announcing a hike in Council Tax.
Speaking on behalf of the Lib Dems on the matter of County Libraries, Cllr Liz Leyshon, has said she is extremely concerned about what this could mean for communities across the county.