Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Councillors debate pioneering project for shared services

A COUNTYWIDE initiative widely seen as hailing the end of West Somerset Council as a standalone local authority is to be discussed by district councillors next week.
Pioneer Somerset was created by the county’s five district councils to work more closely with the county council following a failed attempt by Somerset’s Liberal Democrat councillors to axe the districts.
The bid by the county council to create a single, unitary council running all local government services in Somerset was thrown out by the Government after a public referendum showed more than 80 per cent of people opposed it.
Since then, the six councils have been forced to look at ways of sharing the delivery of their services in order to produce £20 million efficiency savings under Pioneer Somerset branding.
It means that tiny West Somerset - already having to get by without its own chief executive, planning manager, solicitor, or treasurer – is likely to increasingly have its services delivered by neighbouring authorities.
West Somerset councillors will be the first to debate a joint update on the scheme when a report is presented to the scrutiny committee on Monday.
The next steps of the programme will then be discussed during the coming weeks by all the other councils involved - Taunton Deane , South Somerset, Sedgemoor, Mendip, and the county council.
The programme will move into ‘phase two’ with a focus on delivering in three key areas - shared services, customer access, and managerial leadership, by working with a broad range of partners.
Shared services options include street cleaning, a county-wide approach to regeneration projects including major planning applications, developing economic and tourism opportunities across Somerset, communication and consultation, rural development, and improving housing opportunities for local people.
Pioneer Somerset has so far seen joint legal services between West Somerset and Mendip councils.
It is also producing proposals for a county-wide parking partnership to share patrolling and enforcement.
The county, through the Building Schools for the Future programme, is working with Sedgemoor on proposals to provide cost-effective wet and dry leisure facilities, including a possible new pool.
Taunton Deane and Sedgemoor have been working on a pilot project to provide joint street cleaning and gardening, and South Somerset and the county council have created joint area committees for issues at all levels of local government to be discussed at one meetinge.

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