Consultation on Local Community Networks in Somerset

MAJOR decisions in Somerset could be made at a more local level following the transition to the new unitary county authority.

On 1 April 2023, Somerset County Council and the four District Councils – Mendip, Sedgemoor, Somerset West and Taunton and South Somerset – will be replaced by Somerset Council, which will take over all service responsibilities of the existing councils .

To prevent power from being too centralized in one part of the county, the new council will set up a number of Local Community Networks (LCNs) which could have a range of decision-making powers.

A formal consultation on LCNs – including their numbers and powers – has been launched, with residents able to provide their views until mid-October.

What are LCNs – and why do we need them?

LCNs were a fundamental part of Somerset Council’s business case, which was approved by the government in July 2021.

With a council responsible for all decisions regarding children’s services, adult social care, highways, planning, schools and licensing (among other things), there is a risk that power will be too centralized in one place (such as County Hall in Taunton).

LCNs were included in the unitary package to ensure that “local voices are heard, partners are brought together and decisions are made based on local knowledge and experience”.

Each LCN will be made up of committees of the new council, with formal decision-making powers and influence, which will meet locally, reducing the need for residents to travel long distances to make their views known.

Once the new council becomes operational on April 1, 2023, they will become a vital part of its day-to-day decision-making, making choices that will shape the future of this county.

Has this ever been tried – and did it work?

Three LCN pilots have operated in Somerset since the business case was approved, looking at how different public bodies (including local councils, emergency services, NHS and voluntary organisations) can work together.

Each pilot focused on different areas:

  • The pilot project in the Exmoor region tested a new approach to road service delivery;
  • The Frome Area pilot project focused on children, youth and families;
  • The South East Somerset pilot project (in the area of ​​Wincanton, Bruton and Castle Cary) considered rural isolation and welfare.

The work of these pilots is still being evaluated, with the results being used to inform the operation of the new LCNs.

What are the options?

The consultation will ask for your opinion on all aspects of the LCNs – their powers and responsibilities, the boundaries they cover and even their names.

There are three options:

  • Proposal A has 19 LCNs and focuses on clustering many villages around a single large city (if possible) in each case;
  • Proposal B has 18 LCNs and appears to emphasize population spread;
  • Proposal C has 10 LCNs and more closely resembles the existing boundaries of the four District Councils.

Each of the 110 members of the Somerset Council division will participate in the LCN in their area, along with partners from local, town and city councillors, the NHS, schools and other interested parties.

Each LCN is expected to meet six to eight times a year, with locally led groups pursuing their goals between meetings.

Cllr Val Keitch, Portfolio Holder for Local Government Reorganisation, said: “The new unitary council will cover a wide geographical area, so we are aware that we need a model for communities where local voices are heard, partners are brought together and decisions are made. with the benefit of local knowledge and experience.

“LCNs will be committees of the unitary council, supported by dedicated officers and managers, with formal decision-making powers and influence. They will address local issues and priorities, support health and wellness activities, and improve outcomes for our residents.

“We want the public to help us shape them. That’s why we encourage people to participate in the consultation and have their say on how CNL works and where they think it should be located.

“LCNs must have the potential to develop their role alongside the new Somerset Council in the years to come. And it is important to stress, in this difficult economic environment, that they must be efficient, durable and affordable.

How do I have my say – and what happens next?

The consultation opened on Monday (September 5) and will officially end on October 17 – so you have around six weeks to give your opinion.

The easiest way to take part in the consultation is to visit and complete the online questionnaire.

If you would like a hard copy of the consultation, or would like information in an easy-to-read or alternative format, email [email protected] or call Somerset County Council direct on 0300 123 2224 .

If you prefer to give your opinion in person, you can visit one of the following events:

  • 7 September, 10am-4pm: Somerset West and Taunton Council, Deane House, Belvedere Road, Taunton;
  • 22 September, 10am-4pm: Mendip District Council, Cannards Grave Road, Shepton Mallet;
  • 29 September, 10am-4pm: South Somerset District Council, Brympton Way, Yeovil;
  • 7 October, 10am-4pm: Sedgemoor District Council, Bridgwater House, King Square, Bridgwater;
  • October 10, 10am-4pm: Somerset West and Taunton Council, West Somerset House, Killick Way, Williton.

Following the consultation, the Board Executive will discuss the findings and make a final decision on the number and powers of LCNs on November 16. All LCNs will be in place before “acquisition day” in April 2023.