Money for nothing
Councils across Somerset continue to complain about the lack of central government funding. You might expect that their capacity for wasting what little they have would be reigned in.
Indeed with that in mind Somerset County Council leader, David Fothergill, has championed a unitary authority model for the future of our local government. That would mean merging all five councils (four Districts and one County) into one. This would save money on back office functions, finance, legal, HR and the like. Potentially around £15m a year possibly more. Admittedly that estimate varies according to who you talk to.
Last month we reported that £165,000 had been spent on what we understood to be a project. A project to consider the best and most cost-efficient structure of local government going forward.
South Somerset District Council are the lead on this exercise and so all the information we have comes from them. I say this because other councils may not wish to be implicated in what follows. Bear with me.
According to SSDC there is no project.
And there is no report from the project, because the project does not exist.
So if we take the SSDC responses at face value, we would have to assume that our local authorities are spending vast sums of public money on a big talking shop. Not a project. So there cannot be a project plan. And without a project, no Gant charts with time lines, deliverables, no desired outcomes and no structure.
To be very precise, here below are the responses that South Somerset District Council gave to a series of questions to them made under Freedom of Information requests.
They are in the public domain.
They speak more eloquently than any words we could come up with. We should however stress again that these answers were those given by SSDC, not the other authorities involved:
There is no coordinating authority for FOLGIS (Future of Local Government in Somerset – FOLGIS) and there is no project. There is a discussion that was launched by the Leader of Somerset County Council in May 2018.
There is no project and therefore, no governance arrangements, project boards etc. Discussions have been held through the informal Somerset Leaders and Chief Executives Group. This group has no status or decision making powers and operates purely on an informal basis.
There are no formal meetings and therefore no agenda or minutes.
There are no option recommendations. A research project into potential options is still in progress and yet to be finalised.
There is no project and therefore no project manager and no project management costs
The five councils either individual or collectively have not agreed any preferred option or options – this would be a matter that would be considered formally by each Council through its democratic decision making processes. No detailed costs exist for implementing any potential option.
In other words according to SSDC, our local government have spent £165,000 of your money on a big unrecorded discussion with no agendas or minutes, no deliverables and no outcomes to date.
We would be delighted to hear from others involved in this process. Especially those who have a different understanding of what is happening.