Agenda item

Framework for Asset and/or Service Devolution


Councillor Theo Butt Philip introduced the item which was presented by Sara Skirton and Scott Weetch. Feedback was welcomed from committee to develop the framework further. During the debate the following comments and questions were raised:-


·       There had been confusion from Town and Parish Councils on what was a priority as part of this work. As a result greater communication with town and parish councils was requested due to capacity concerns to take these services on.

·       There could be significant asset transfers, it would be helpful to try and put some rationale and priority into the paper including timescales which had been an emerging picture.

·       There was regular engagement with the sector, with fortnightly clerks meetings, and attendance at the SALC AGM to hear concerns of colleagues in Town and Parish councils.

·       Concerns were expressed that where some services were being devolved that there wouldn’t be enough service provision for those Towns and Parishes who couldn’t take services on.

·       It was agreed that equity of provision needed to be monitored and to be clear on this.

·       In respect of recent flooding issues and tackling blocked drains, restrictions in highways expenditure, costs and liability on hiring a highway jetter was considered and how local villages can help. Residents were unhappy with the lack of activity.

·       Highways stewards modelling and supporting local highways was under consideration, more details were to follow on how this can help local issues on the highways network.

·       There were a suite of opportunities for local councils to buy into and licensing was required to work on highways to ensure liabilities and insurance impacts were covered.

·       A response to flooding issues would be provided to Cllr Hobhouse following the meeting after discussion with operational colleagues.

·       It was questioned what period of time are local authorities having the option to take on devolved services and to successfully run and finance these services? Concerns were expressed that this was too late due to local precepts being set early next year which puts Parish Councils in an impossible position to devolve services in such a short period.

·       It was understood that there were risks around unprepared and unsupported councils to take on services. What was being done to ensure they are prepared and manage that risk.

·       Conversations were being held with Bridgwater Town Council, to ensure that there was an understanding and a clear business case with provisions in place to take everything into consideration.

·       Work was ongoing with the Somerset Association of Local Councils to support the sector in taking on assets and services.

·       Given the turnover of staff in local councils, taking in responsibility for services in the context of financial constraints, it was questioned how are concerns mitigated and could services and assets be returned if they were no longer viable.

·       Advice to parishes on precepting had been sent indirectly through the letter from the leader of the Council

·       Importance of capacity and ongoing capacity. Capacity of own Council?

·       An internal working group was developing this into a programme. Workstreams needed to be developed as part of budget setting to mitigate impact of services being reduced.

·       Addressing questions and queries from clerks and how they could consider this as part of the precept next year was important, in addition to setting out more information based on responses received from leader of council’s letter.

·       Larger devolution opportunities were likely to be offered to larger town councils.

·       It was a sensible option to have a contingency fund with the transfer of services to town and parish councils. Role of LCN was a vehicle for communicating issues and progress. There was confusion with what the pathway is and talking to officers via parish meetings. Improved communication was requested.

·       It was acknowledged some services could be delivered with better benefits locally with local contractors.

·       Assurance was given that elected members would be consulted on in respect of asset and devolution deals.

·       Asset disposals would still go through the asset disposal policy. Further assurance was given that members will be involved.

·       The Committee thanked officers for the report.


The Chair thanked the officers for attending with the update for the Scrutiny Committee Corporate and Resources and concluded that the committee had considered the report and noted the information provided.


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