Somerset Labour Manifesto 2022

Prosperity, Security, Respect: A fairer future for Somerset

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On 5th May 2022 Somerset will elect a new council providing all our major services. This is an historic opportunity to vote for the change we need. This manifesto is a living document and will evolve as we listen to, and discuss with Somerset communities the issues that matter to them.

Labour’s overarching goal for Somerset is to repair, improve and sustain services that enable individuals and communities to thrive. The widely respected Marmot Review[1], commissioned by the Labour government, emphasised that damage prevention is critically important. Labour will adopt a preventative rather than a damage-limitation approach to policy making.

Successive Conservative governments have starved Somerset of the funding necessary to sustain secure and healthy communities. Twelve years of calculated government neglect, and poor decision-making at County Hall have left hard-pressed public servants operating with desperately fragile resources. We all pay the price, but the greatest hardships fall on those least equipped to bear them.

There is no quick fix for our lost services. 45% of Somerset schools are academies or Free schools, ending local ownership and control and limiting parental influence. Funding for our maintained schools is among the meanest in the country.  The County Youth Service, Sure Start Centres, social care services, adult special needs centres, Community Safety Partnerships – so many safety nets have been dismantled. Many vulnerable residents struggle to access the information and services they need because online connectivity and proficiency are taken for granted.

Somerset needs a council that puts people first – accessible, transparent and accountable.

Investing in security, health, and opportunities for all, and a vibrant, green economy are priorities that run through all Labour’s plans for the county. We will work with parish and town councils, community groups and statutory and voluntary agencies, to identify problems and seek local solutions. And we will challenge the government to provide fair funding for Somerset under their ‘levelling up’ policy.

Our key aims for Somerset:

  • Safer, stronger, empowered communities, accessible information, advice and services
  • Decent, secure, genuinely affordable, low carbon homes with key local facilities
  • A healthy start, rounded education and equal opportunities for all children and young people
  • Health and care services that meet changing needs and enhance quality of life
  • A strong, sustainable, green local economy and environment
  • High quality jobs, vocational training and lifelong learning opportunities
  • Sustainable, integrated public transport, well-maintained roads, cycle routes and walkways

Decent, secure, genuinely affordable homes

A decent, secure, affordable home is an essential foundation for health and wellbeing. A secure home allows children and adults to develop to their full potential. Too many households are trapped in over-priced, privately-rented and temporary accommodation, with little opportunity to put down roots and flourish.

Labour Councillors will work with the voluntary sector and housing associations to tackle Somerset’s housing crisis and its effects. We want to see an end to ‘right to buy’ which forces councils to sell council homes while government confiscates much of the income. We recognise the need for housing and support for vulnerable young adults and will invest in housing solutions to meet these needs.

Many older and off-grid houses are hard to heat and expensive to insulate effectively. Retro-fitting homes will help reduce household bills, as well as carbon emissions. We are committed to building new council homes to zero-carbon standards in future.

Somerset’s population is ageing and a significant number of those over 80 will acquire disabilities[2].  An increasing supply of sheltered, ‘extra care’ and lifetime homes will be needed to support independent living for as long as possible.

Increasing numbers of holiday and ‘to-let’ homes, along with inward migration are pushing the cost of buying beyond the reach of workers on local rates of pay. The quality of privately-rented homes varies widely, and landlords are able to demand prohibitive deposits and high rents. A register of approved landlords whose properties meet the decent homes standard, and who sign up to the Government’s Tenancy Deposit Scheme, would give tenants greater security[3].

Labour will build on current measures to house homeless people and rough sleepers. We will also appoint a Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Liaison officer to work with travellers and settled communities to promote good relations and identify suitable sites for permanent and transit use.

Our aims for housing:

  • Retain and increase the stock of council housing across Somerset and assess the extent and suitability of Somerset Council-owned land for social housing development
  • Increase the number of accessible and lifetime homes for older and disabled people
  • Extend the council house retrofit programme
  • Invest in new, genuinely affordable, low-to-zero carbon homes
  • Develop Foyer-model supported housing schemes for young adults
  • Increase the supply of suitable accommodation for homeless people
  • Establish a tenancy deposit loan fund for approved landlords
  • Identify and develop suitable transit sites for travelling communities

Firm foundations and equal opportunities for children and young people

Our children face increasingly complex personal and societal challenges. They need support to grow in confidence, and an excellent education system that nurtures their aspirations and abilities and meets their special needs. Repercussions from Covid19 have affected the mental health and educational development of many young people, and revealed stark inequalities in terms of study space, and access to online and other resources.

Labour’s ‘Every Child Matters’ policy aimed to support children in school, in the home and in the community. This was quietly dropped by a destructive Lib Dem/Tory coalition government. Labour Councillors will revive its vision and purpose in Somerset.  The decision by this same coalition government to abolish the Education Maintenance Allowance was another shameful act which had a devastating impact for post-16 students from poorer households.

Sure Start Centres were set up to give children a healthy start and to help parents in need of support. They aimed to prevent problems arising or address them early on, and the evidence has shown they were effective. Since 2010 Conservative governments’ austerity policies and penny-pinching councillors have dismantled essential support for children and families, storing up costly financial and social problems. As well as dealing with rising costs, today’s parents need help to counteract toxic online influences.

The dismantling of children’s social services has proved to be deeply damaging, creating a ‘time bomb’ of unmet needs among vulnerable and ‘at risk’ children.

Schools are being forced out of the state system and into Academy Trusts, creating a dislocation of school support services. Many parents and guardians feel they have little say in their children’s education and school experience. Meanwhile local authority-run schools suffer year on year cuts that place increasing pressures on school staff and incur extra costs for supply teachers. These pressures inevitably affect pupils, and particularly the growing number of those with special educational needs, and those whose attendance has fallen off since the Covid restrictions.

We need a Labour government in order to fix our fractured education system and provide a curriculum that encourages young people to learn through questioning and discovery.  Labour Councillors will support and defend our maintained schools. We will lobby government for sufficient funding to equip teachers and enable students of all abilities to achieve their full potential.

Our aims for children and young people:

  • Reinstate Sure Start Centres and make integrated family support available from birth
  • Address educational equality gaps revealed by Covid19
  • Ensure qualified pastoral support is available in council-run schools
  • Ensure Pupil Referral Units are properly resourced to work with ‘non-school’ attenders
  • Re-establish a Somerset Youth Service
  • Build robust links with colleges and academies to ensure wrap-around support for students
  • Tackle the causes of disaffection and disengagement experienced by so many of our young people.

Health and care services

England’s health and care systems are broken. We believe high quality health and social care can only be achieved through fully integrated, publicly funded services. In opposition the Tories rejected the Labour Government’s attempt to seek cross-party agreement on a way forward. Now in Government, it is their duty to address equitably the huge and growing gap between the needs and availability of quality services.

Somerset is home to a large, and growing, older population among whom loneliness, reduced health and mobility, and physical isolation often undermine quality of life, and lead to unwelcome relocation.

Choice and control are important for people with physical or mental frailties whatever their age. This calls for professional support to maintain safety, independence and the best possible quality of life. These services should be delivered by highly-trained, fairly-rewarded staff, equipped to serve the diverse health and care needs of our communities. Sadly, too many service users and carers find the support is missing or inadequate for their needs. As Somerset’s social services nears crisis point, too much responsibility is shouldered by relatives and overworked, under-resourced voluntary sector organisations.

There is a need for pro-active, preventative measures, with advisory input from service users and carers and in close collaboration with GPs, Patient Participation Groups, voluntary organisations and the NHS.

Somerset’s Public Health Service, whose main purpose is health promotion, has demonstrated its essential value during the Covid crisis period. Facilities such as leisure centres, swimming pools and outdoor sports facilities, currently administered by district councils, can play an important role in maintaining good health. The vital preventative work of the Public Health Service would be advanced by the introduction of discounted access to council-owned sports facilities for low income households.

Our aims for health and care services:

  • Support a fully integrated health and care service for Somerset
  • Reintroduce respite care
  • Restore the funding, status and functions of Somerset’s Public Health service
  • Establish an affordable access scheme to sports and leisure facilities for low income households
  • Adopt the recommendations set out in the Marmot Report, 2010 ‘Fair Society, Healthy Lives’, fully implement necessary ill-health prevention, and tackle health inequalities.

A transport system fit for purpose

The future Somerset Council has a major role to play in protecting the environment and ensuring that people living in rural areas as well as towns have access to efficient, sustainable means of transport. A well-maintained highway network and a reliable, affordable, climate-friendly, integrated public transport system are critical for Somerset’s future economy, productivity, health, wellbeing, social life and environment. In collaboration with the Somerset Bus Partnership, and environmental and transport lobby groups we will campaign for a better, greener bus service, and to ensure Somerset  becomes carbon neutral by 2030.

Year-on-year cuts to bus services and increased fares hit rural and town-based households hard, leaving a majority reliant on cars – or isolated. Lower income households have little choice but to rely on older, higher carbon-emitting vehicles. The impact on global warming, and the Councils’CO2 emission reduction commitments are pressing incentives to invest in alternatives to private transport.

The County Council’s Bus Services Improvement Plan[4] makes clear the measures proposed “can only be achieved” with significant allocation of funding from the Government’s Transformation fund. There is no apparent ‘Plan B’ if the bid fails. Meanwhile, for travellers who enjoy a challenge, the county’s ‘Traveline’ bus service information website is an obstacle course for those unused to IT.

By contrast northern towns and cities already benefit from the government’s ‘levelling up’ policy. Although Somerset’s highways are counted among the least well maintained in the country, and our bus service lies at the bottom of the league table among rural areas, we have yet to share the benefits of ‘levelling up’.

Somerset needs a council that is committed to becoming one of the best and greenest transport authorities in the country. Labour Councillors will press for government funding to improve Somerset’s highways and rebuild and repair the whole transport infrastructure. As the technology advances we need the resources to facilitate the switch to safe, affordable and sustainable forms of mobility, including electric vehicles, buses, cycling and walking.

Our aims for a better transport system:

  • Implement a programme of improvements and repairs to Somerset’s highways and cycleways
  • Switch to low-emission buses as soon as possible, prioritising use at peak travel times
  • Improve accessibility with real-time and on-board audio and visual information
  • Provide bus shelters at all regular stops
  • Introduce an ‘Oyster card’ system and widen the concessions scheme
  • Support safe and active travel for cyclists, pedestrians and other non-car modes
  • Continue a strategic roll-out of electric charging points in towns and villages
  • Replace council-owned vehicles with electric or green hydrogen ones at the earliest opportunity
  • Re-establish a bus station for Taunton and explore potential sites for an integrated travel hub
  • Engage with bus users, cycling and disability groups to promote safe, sustainable travel

Tackling the climate emergency

The Climate Change Act commits the UK to reducing emissions by at least 100 percent of 1990 levels by 2050. Our goal is that the UK will have reduced household carbon emissions by 28% by 2030, and will be on track to reach zero by 2048.  The devastating effects of flooding and the impact of phosphates on the Somerset levels are stark evidence of our failure to protect our natural environment.

We take seriously the threat that the climate emergency poses to our health and wellbeing, as well as our environment and ecology. Our policies for housing, transport, the environment, jobs and the economy will help to deliver a green, ethical and sustainable Somerset.

The irreversible extinction of plants and animal species, pollution of water and air, and our unsustainable production and consumption patterns are global a responsibility. As a contribution to ecological and environmental protection we will retain all remaining County Farms and expand the number of smallholdings.

Only political, social and human action can change things. Protection of the remaining species needs to be a primary concern of all levels of government, including Somerset Council. We need to adopt the methods used in those countries where farmers protect their crops from pests without using pesticides, and encourage the protection of hedgerows, and other habitats where biodiversity can thrive.

Our aims for tackling the climate emergency

  • Ensure that Somerset’s Climate Emergency strategy and action plan combines, and where necessary improves upon district councils’ strategies – and is implemented
  • Work with flood prevention agencies and communities affected by flooding, and seek fair funding from government to tackle its causes and effects
  • Invest in renewable energy and energy efficiency technology for all new housing developments and in district energy systems where possible.
  • Consult with recognised trade unions concerning disinvestment of the Council’s pension fund, and withdraw any other investments in carbon intensive industries
  • Work with the Environment Agency and other partners to identify vulnerable sections of our coast and protect those areas where there is risk of erosion.
  • Enforce the increase of 20% above the national level of energy efficiency for all planning applications.
  • Promote local energy provision through support for community renewable energy and heat production

Investing in Jobs and the Economy

The government’s approach to managing Brexit, the climate emergency and Covid19 have combined to damage the whole economy and job market. For many low wage households it gets harder to focus on saving the planet when the bills pile up.  Much of the economic repair work in Somerset depends on government policy, but Labour Councillors will use every opportunity to open up new, better paid employment opportunities.

Somerset’s workforce is among the lowest paid in the country. Housing, transport, food and fuel costs are considerably higher in relation to wages. Productivity is at broadly the same level as 10 years ago and is lower than the national average. There are too few incentives for young people to put down roots in Somerset.

Labour will invest in green industries and initiatives and create new high-value job opportunities to attract and retain our young people.

The high carbon economy must come to an end, and businesses and workforces need to build the skills necessary for a ‘green industrial revolution’.

Our aims for investing in jobs and the economy

  • Make sure people have the right skills and training they need to work and earn a decent living
  • Work with employers and trade unions to create secure, high-value jobs, and fair employment and development opportunities.
  • Support businesses to minimise their impact on the environment.
  • Work with further education providers in developing education and training programmes that will equip the workforce to undertake green jobs
  • Develop a clear, sound economic development strategy for Somerset in partnership employers and colleges.
  • Attract and encourage development of low carbon enterprises to provide green jobs in Somerset
  • Source council supplies and services from local providers wherever feasible, and require prospective council contractors to pay employees a living wage
  • Ensure criteria for the council’s public procurement processes that will drive the ‘greening’ of local businesses.

Planning for a better environment

Governments exercise a great deal of control over local planning decisions, often this is to the detriment of local communities and to the dismay of local councillors. Recent decisions include enabling developers to convert office blocks into unhealthy living spaces, and high street shops into housing without local councils having a say.

‘Zoning’ proposals introduced by the previous Secretary of State for Environment sought to radically restrict councils’ planning powers and local people’s opportunities to influence proposals affecting them. The proposals would give automatic permission for development in designated zones and introduce ‘design codes.’ While these plans have been shelved for the time being, there are concerns that centralising measures may be revived.

The Government continues to allow property developers to ‘land bank’ in order to increase their profits, pushing house prices ever further out of Somerset people’s reach. Time and again developers have been allowed to renege on their obligation to provide infrastructure necessary to support community life and to meet agreed quotas for social housing.

The powers of local planning committees are restricted by a mass of government-imposed regulations. In as far local powers allow we will ensure that new developments always include the infrastructure (bus services, roads, schools, community spaces, EV points etc) necessary to meet community needs before homes are occupied.

Each District Council’s Local Plans will ultimately need to be harmonised. Within this framework Labour will aim to respond to the needs of individual localities. We will work with bus companies and users, cycling campaign groups and pedestrians to develop sustainable, reliable, affordable and people-centred transport links, balancing the provision of public and private transport as appropriate to local needs.

Our aims for a better planned environment

  • Develop open spaces and parks in towns and cities, leaving non-food-productive areas to re-wild so that bio diversity can re-establish itself.  
  • Ensure that the necessary infrastructure – including schools, GP services, pedestrian and cycle-friendly routes, community spaces and electric car charging points – is in place before new homes are occupied
  • Use all available means to ensure developers provide the social and affordable homes quotas specified in planning consents
  • Prioritise the use of brown field sites for new developments
  • Require new-build housing to use energy efficient construction and energy generation such as solar water heating, air or ground source heat pumps and photo voltaic panels.
  • Repurpose empty shops and sites to support the local economy and communities
  • Resist any future government plans to impose further centralised control over local planning decisions.

Promoting food justice and farming in Somerset

Labour and the Cooperative Party have been working together to develop a fresh approach to food and farming policy across the South West.  Labour fully supports the Cooperative Party’s ‘Food Justice’ campaign[5]. We are in the forefront of demands for a ‘right to food’ and an end to hunger.

Covid has alerted us all to the importance of farming and food security. It has also exposed the appalling food poverty that too many people in our County continue to experience. It is both sad an ironic that all too often it’s our rural communities where ‘food poverty’ is under-recognised and inadequately addressed.

Somerset farmers are facing huge challenges. Trade deals favour cheap imports over high standards. They face a ‘double whammy’: loss of markets for their produce coupled with rising costs.  One effect is that Somerset’s land workers can be exposed to redundancy and evictions when farms struggle to stay afloat. Labour supports the provision of new land worker dwellings on low impact farming operations.

Between 2011 and 2020 Somerset County Council sold off almost 60% of our county farms in order to plug holes in their budgets created by poor policy decisions. This seriously reduces opportunities for aspiring new farmers.

Our aims for food justice and farming:

  • County farm and smallholder tenancy agreements will promote eco-friendly methods of production and showcase sustainable agricultural practices.
  • Stop the sell-off of County Farms and provide new-entrant opportunities
  • Work with other South West authorities to establish a ‘Food Strategy Partnership’ aimed at promoting the right to food, and supplying locally farmed food to schools, hospitals, and other public agencies.
  • Incorporate into the Council’s Climate Emergency Strategy a climate emergency adaptation plan for farming to mitigate against flooding and seasonal temperature changes.

Valuing Somerset’s creativity and heritage – enhancing quality of life

Somerset’s libraries have evolved over recent years into important social assets and multi-purpose hubs. Twice they have faced potential closure since 2010, forcing local communities to step up to save these precious resources. Thirty two local libraries remain and stand as a tribute to the commitment and resourcefulness of the communities that saved them.

Our museums, heritage centres and historic sites are important reminders of Somerset’s social and industrial history, customs and traditions. Along with libraries they are important educational and recreational facilities for Somerset residents and visitors of all ages and abilities.

[1]Fair Society Healthy Lives, the Marmot Review, 2010

[2] Somerset Intelligence Website, 2014 data

[3] For ‘assured shorthold’ tenancies landlords can place tenants’ deposits into a government-backed Tenancy Deposit Scheme set up in April 2007.

[4]https://somersetcc.sharepoint.com/sites/SCCPublic/Transport/Forms/AllItems.aspx?id=%2Fsites%2FSCCPublic%2FTransport%2FSomerset Bus Back Better_FINAL 291021%2Epdf&parent=%2Fsites%2FSCCPublic%2FTransport&p=true

[5] Co-operative Party launch Food Justice campaign and commit to Right to Food in UK law | Sustain (sustainweb.org)

Photography;- “Michelle Cowbourne @GlastoMichelle”

Somerset Labour candidates 2022