Mystery in Mendip

This evening Mendip District Council held a cabinet meeting. The last item on the agenda was an “urgent key decision”. Local authorities are required to publish a notice of their intention to make a key decision at least 28 clear days before the meeting. This did not happen for the 5 September meeting.

Mendip therefore had to take exceptional measures. There are get out of jail free clauses that cover this. Where the date by which the meeting must be held makes compliance impractical, the meeting may still be held. But agreement has to be obtained from the Chair of the Scrutiny Board. Presumably this happened. We can’t say for certain, as press and public were cleared from the room before any details could be discussed.

All we were told is that the situation arose “due to the impending Local Government Review which has a set timescale.”

We are also told that the nature of the item is a “Contract Update”.

So that leaves us to guess. What we do know is that as part of the LGR, the administration of all Somerset councils is being brought together. From April 2023 the hope is there will be one system for one Somerset Unitary Council.

Mendip however has a problem. In 2017 they joined with four other councils, none in Somerset, to run joint back office services. The work was contracted out to Capita and a number of other smaller contractors. That was under the previous Conservative administration, the current LibDem administration has stayed with it.

The contract has not been a resounding success.

In 2018 negotiations resulted in the return of licensing services to the local councils. In February 2020 the return of payroll and HR services was negotiated and following further talks in September 2020 Procurement and Finance and Exchequer services returned to Mendip. Talks also resulted in a reduced scope of the IT service provided to the council.

However a number of services are still contracted out. Mendip still has a partnership agreement with the other four councils. Revenues and benefits, IT, customer services, land charges, property services and facilities management are still run through the five council partnership.

Mendip’s services now need to be brought together with other Somerset councils. Presumably (we cannot be sure because the item was held in camera) the five council contract needs to be exited. Presumably there will also be penalty clauses for Mendip to exit that agreement. And timing will now be critical. With only 6 months until the new Somerset council officially takes over, work will need to be rapid. The remaining service areas will need to be brought in house to Mendip before in turn being merged with other Somerset councils.

Interesting times.


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