Sedgemoor spurned at the altar of Joint Working by South Somerset

SDC & SSDC ask "So where do we go from here?" . Monitoring Officer appears to be pointing to 'square 1'.
SDC & SSDC ask “So where do we go from here?” . Monitoring Officer appears to be pointing to ‘square 1’.

For the past few months Sedgemoor District Council and South Somerset District Council have been meeting to look at ways of ‘Joint Working’ in the face of pressure on local government funding and significant cuts from central government . Leading the Sedgemoor case, Chief Executive Kerry Rickards, was pushing a scheme involving a Joint Chief Executive role for the two authorities and 5 shared Corporate Directors. Last night South Somerset voted down that plan 51.0 and today Sedgemoor also rejected it in favour of a more limited ‘strategic alliance’ with a single (Tory) abstention.

At the Special Sedgemoor meeting the Tory ‘face saving’ in the wake of what was clearly a luke warm reception from South Somerset towards a key prestige project, was reflected in calls from members to ensure ‘Sedgemoor’s sovereignty’, as if they were fighting some EU referendum, with members lining up to downplay the massive rejection of the Chief Exec’s plan and to big up the ‘vague co-operation’ outcome of the so-called ‘Strategic Alliance’ as if it were a victory.

CEO’s proposals too ‘top heavy’ say Labour

Laboru Leader Cllr Mick Lerry 'trying to get a word in edgeways' despite Chairman's constant interuptions.
Labour Leader Cllr Mick Lerry ‘trying to get a word in edgeways’ despite Chairman’s constant interuptions.

Despite being interrupted no less than 5 times by Tory Chairman Ian Dyer telling him to “wind up”, Labour Group leader Cllr Mick Lerry (Bridgwater Victoria) tried to explain his view of the events along with the history of the negotiations “When this proposal for joint working first came up it looked like things would move swiftly but it soon became apparent that what the Chief Exec was proposing was too top heavy. This didn’t play well in South Somerset who have been managing without a Chief Executive and only 2 Corporate Directors, so when the Autumn Spending Review was announced and it was expected that this would have driven the changes forward, instead they started stalling. It also didn’t play well here at Sedgemoor with Group Managers and other staff as the gap at the top was perceived to be widening.”

Heckled constantly by the Chairman as if he didn’t wish to hear the case being put, Cllr Lerry nevertheless continued “South Somerset were really looking towards what has become known as the Eastbourne model of change and transformation of Local Government services which they found more attractive than the proposed joint deal with SDC which they saw as ‘top heavy”.

He attempted  to explain that the Eastbourne model was about “..transformation of services where they have a paperless authority, and  a one stop shop for customer services, and they are receiving income from solar panels on their council houses and tenants receive cheaper electricity. They are now looking at a Joint Authority with Lewes.”

Cllr Lerry finally gave way to the Chairman and the Tories then got on with falling out with each other.

So what IS a Strategic alliance?

Tory Cllr Filmer wants to know 'What's in the tin not what's on the label?!'
Tory Cllr Filmer wants to know ‘What’s in the tin not what’s on the label?!’

Cllr Dawn Hill (Con Cheddar) as acting Leader for the day, said “The potential for a Strategic Alliance between the two councils offers a very real opportunity to strengthen our presence regionally and secure a positive future for our residents. We are all facing challenges and by working together we can address those challenges head on. It is not just about savings, it is also about creating new income streams, sharing expertise, improving services and getting the most from collaborative working. This is a positive way forward and it was never a foregone conclusion. Local Government is in flux with joint working, devolution and heaven knows what the Boundary Commission will come up with. ”

However, Cllr Bob Filmer (Con Knoll) and very much the ‘Boris Johnson’ figure, particularly in regard to the mass of blond hair,  was more questioning “Strategic Alliance is a very good title but what does it actually mean? Tell us what’s in the tin not what’s on the label.”

Cllr Ann Bown (Con, Wembdon & Cannington) took his point further and was the only Tory to step out of line by abstaining expressing reservations about the ‘vague nature of the resolution’ saying “Sedgemoor has faced cutbacks as well. But what exactly IS this Strategic Alliance that we’re signing up to? I can’t support something if I don’t know what it is.”

Cllr Bulmer-a visitor from South Somerset, "It would be wrong of me to pre-empt what a Strategic Alliance actually means"
Cllr Bulmer-a visitor from South Somerset, “It would be wrong of me to pre-empt what will happen from here on in “

Cllr Hill came back “The Strategic Alliance has not yet been formed. We’ve a long way to go. It’s not just a 5 minute fix. Things are never easy. But we will retain our sovereignty . What is it? We don’t know. We haven’t really thought it through. But I do know that the next step for this council is moving towards a more commercial approach with more marketing and more selling. Watch this space.”

Also in attendance at the Sedgemoor Council meeting was Cllr Dave Bulmer, the Independent vice chair of Scrutiny from South Somerset (and also Mayor of Chard). Cllr Bulmer said after the meeting “The next four years is going to be hard for both of us with these cuts and so resilience is the key. If we could find a way to work together we could have a stronger voice. However, it would be wrong for me to pre-empt what will happen from here on in.”

So he didn’t.

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