Category Archives: featured

New strike dates announced for South West Railway

Five days of industrial action are planned by the RMT Union on services run by South West Railway from 23rd to 27th October inclusive. The train company believe that their contingency plans mean that 2/3 of trains should run as normal.

Please note GWR services through Somerset are not impacted by the strike. Services through Crewkerne, Yeovil and Templecombe will be.

For more information on timetabling changes please see https://www.southwesternrailway.com/plan-my-journey/rmt-industrial-action/23-to-27-october

Meanwhile the dispute between train company and Union is no nearer resolution. The Leveller understands that further industrial action is provisionally planned for 3rd 17th and 24th November,

Back in August the RMT Union expressed their frustration with South West Railway that despite having benefited from “a fares windfall that will pump up their profits” following the announcement of fares increases for 2019, “They have plenty of money to employ guards on their trains and to sign off the guard guarantee the union has achieved elsewhere”

The essence of this dispute is that South West Railway believe guards on trains are no longer necessary and the RMT Union believes they are. The train company believes technological advances make the role of guards redundant and the Union believe they are essential to passenger safety.

Good news for Somerton

The 17th October was not a good day for unity at Somerset County Council. The war of words between the Administration and the Opposition that started in the Emergency County Council Meeting, carried on into the Cabinet Meeting that followed.

It was however a good day for Somerton.

Despite (so I’m told by Local Democracy Reporter, Daniel Mumby) some barbed comments aimed at the townsfolk by Council Leader David Fothergill,  the new school was approved. SCC sometimes loses touch with other people’s reality. When at approximately 2.30pm on a Wednesday afternoon Councillor Fothergill commented “it’s a “poor show” that no-one from the school, town council or Somerton is here” I wonder if it occurred to him that they were actually at work. In fact if someone from the school had been there they would no doubt have been criticised for shirking.

Nevertheless Cabinet unanimously approved the new school to be built at Northfields and delivered by 2020. The work to build the school will now go out to tender.

Bun Fight at the OK Corral

The intent was serious. An Extraordinary Meeting of Somerset County Council called by 5 members of the council, representatives of Green, LibDem, Labour and Independent groups.

The meeting had a strict agenda. To debate a motion put forward by those 5 members. If you didn’t realise how strictly the meeting would have to stick to an agenda, the lengthy (and boy to I mean lengthy) briefing by SCC’s Monitoring Officer laboured the point.

This set the tone for the meeting. 12 minutes in and we were still arguing about the cost of holding the meeting, what was or was not a point of order, who was or was not here, why they were or were not here and, well frankly we were losing the will to live. The Administration and Opposition took it in turns to strive to stoop to the lowest level of trivial point scoring. Was there a point? Would we ever get to it?

15 minutes in and we finally made it to public questions. Only two were allowed and that was presumably because the others failed to stick to the agenda tightly enough.

The public questions done, Cllr Liz Leyshon explained the point of the meeting. It was a relief to know there was one. The thrust of her point, and it was a serious one, was that a financial plan for Somerset County Council had been confidently put forward by the Administration in February. The LibDems understood the necessity of what had to be done and that the Administration were doing best with what they had.

Then the true position suddenly became apparent in August. Now there were overspends, inadequate resources and a problem with reserves. For this reason the opposition had lost confidence in Cabinet and wanted to see more precision in the contingency plans SCC had in place in case they once again they missed their targets leading to a more terminal financial meltdown.

At this point we were in severe danger of having a serious debate. Cllr Chilcott for the Administration responded that financial reporting had been improved, now it was much clearer and written for non-financial people to understand. Two weekly tracking of numbers had been introduced so would give an early warning of anything going wrong. All areas of the budget were being tightly controlled to ensure no further overspends happened.

The Council Leader, David Fothergill, explained that what had gone wrong was the level of demand on children’s services. “They have gone up far beyond what we might have expected…. We are not unique….. He had had a conversation with leader of Sunderland Council who is facing the same issue….”

Dante now intervened and ensured that the meeting began a long slow journey down through the circles of Hell.

It started off innocently enough. Cllr Mike Rigby was hoping for hard figures and felt that instead he had been “hit by a wall of tumble drier fluff. I really would like to know where the contingency numbers will come from and what they are.” Cllr Rigby rather wanted to propose an amendment to the motion being debated. This resulted only in an extended dispute between Monitoring Officer and Councillor over what had or had not been agreed about whether motions could or could not be proposed at the meeting – or not. And if not a motion, then what about an amendment to a motion….

Other Councillors were struggling to keep to the agenda. On two occasions the chair had to stand. Now I’ve not seen this before but it is apparently the ultimate sanction. When the Chair stands, by convention councillors must stop speaking.

If not you drop into a lower circle of Hell.

Apparently

The Chair is actually quite a formidable Victorian Gent in a sharply ironed suit and serious greying beard. You do not ignore him standing up. You could almost imagine him in a portrait starting down from a wood panelled room.

Two councillors had to be cut off in their prime by the standing Chair.

We dropped two circles further into Hell.

Several others had to be stopped before the ultimate sanction proved necessary.

It was becoming a debate in which nearly every speaker failed to make it to the end of the first sentence. But still they kept trying… The Chair was clear, the Chair was fair, but no-one seemed to be paying him attention.

Light relief was provided when Cllr Chilcott’s microphone stopped working. No-one could hear her. Councillor Chilcott answers questions in a monotone and this may have been a blessing, Whether or not that was a blessing remains a matter of debate. It would have been but as it was not on the agenda, I’m sure the Chair would not have allowed it to be debated.

Just as it looked as if some semblance of order might be restored another councillor intervened to offer Cllr Chilcott advice over how to use a microphone. I would like to report exactly what he said but I couldn’t actually hear him.

Meanwhile the Monitoring Officer and Cllr Rigby were still debating whether a motion could be put or an amendment to a motion or perhaps even an amendment to an amendment to a motion. This was starting to sound like Brexit.

The end product was an agreement that an amendment to the motion could be put as long as the tone was positive. I’m not sure why that matters. It was the opinion of the Monitoring Officer who appears to be using John Bercow as his role model.

Mike Rigby dutifully put his amendment. Up jumped Cllr Mike Lewis to suggest that as the amendment contained the word “not” it was “not” positive.

Then Monitoring Officer and several Councillors got into an argy bargy about whether Councillors who had not been in the room for the whole debate could vote or not on the amendment. Assuming anyone could agree that it was sufficiently positive.

Cllr Leigh Redman sat in front of a copy of the constitution and asked where exactly it was ordered that a Councillor had to be in the meeting for the whole of an item. in order to vote on it. Answer came their none although there was a lot of shuffling and rustling of papers between the Monitoring Officer and Legal Officer. And a further statement that it was the way it was on the parental logic of “because I say so”.

We now entered the lowest circle of Hell.

The childishness was all consuming. Out of the chaos came a named vote. Everyone voted exactly with their party. We moved on.

This was meant to be a serious debate about the serious state of SCC’s finances and the ability of the council to get through a very difficult financial period. I can honestly say I’ve seen more thoughtful comment and intelligent debate at a children’s tea party.

In the face of financial adversity our councillors found it much more fun to throw food at each other than actually address a serious issue.

Less book keeping in Somerset

Following the review of the Somerset County Council Library service that ended back in July, SCC have now published their recommendations. It will result in the end of SCC funded libraries in 15 communities. That is not necessarily the same as closing the library, at least not yet. In the short term the 15 libraries that will be affected will be invited to put forward proposals to enable them to run as so called ”Cmmunity Partnership Libraries”, with staffing and service all provided by local volunteers. The review also recommends that an annual financial contribution of between £5,000 and £15,000 be provided to Community Library Partnerships based in Castle Cary, Somerton, Street, Porlock, Watchet, Wiveliscombe, Priorswood and Nether Stowey.

It is not immediately clear why the other libraries facing changes in Bishops Lydeard, Bruton, Highbridge, Milborne Port, North Petherton, South Petherton and Sunningdale (Yeovil) will not receive any financial support from SCC going forwards.

Councillor David Hall, Cabinet Member with responsibility for libraries was not surprised that “Somerton Library.”

And in fairness they actually have. Seven of the libraries earmarked for potential change are now recommended to remain Somerset County Council operated libraries: these are at Cheddar, Crewkerne, Dulverton, Ilminster, Martock, Shepton Mallet and Wellington.

For those libraries marked for change though, they now have until midday on 15th November to submit a Community Library Partnership (CLP) Expression of Interest. But if they do not, or if SCC deem the plans submitted to be not viable, then alternative library services would be implemented (such as “outreach services” or mobile van library stops) and library buildings could start to close from early 2019.

In the meantime we should stress these are only recommendations. They will now go to Scrutiny Committee for Policy and Place on 24th October. The SCC Cabinet will then make a final decision, rather inappropriately on 5th November. If approved, implementation of the changes would start from January 2019.

Your view on health and care In Somerset

On Monday (15 October) the first of a number of county-wide events will take place to hear local people’s views on health and social care in Somerset. The Somerset CCG is the body responsible for deciding how the NHS budget is spent in Somerset and it, together with the NHS Trusts for the two hospitals, Somerset Partnership and Somerset County Council want to know more about what you think.

The events will also go to some trouble to explain why we need a new approach to health and care services to help support Somerset residents to live longer, healthier and more independent lives. There are five broad headings under which they’d like your feedback:

  • planned care (usually non-emergency treatment) and cancer,
  • long term health conditions (such as diabetes) and frailty
  • urgent and emergency care
  • mental health and learning disabilities, and
  • maternity and children’s services.

The first two sessions take place next week; the first is at Berrow Village Hall, Burnham-on-Sea, on Monday afternoon, 3pm-6.30pm, closely followed by Great Bow Wharf, Langport on Wednesday 17 October, 10am to 2pm).

Inevitably as the staff involve work office hours, the sessions all take place, with only a couple of exceptions, within office hours. So whilst they may well get lots of useful input from those who are big users of the NHS and social care right now, they won’t presumably be expecting anyone under the age of 65 in full time employment to be turning up.

Which is a shame as they will be the users of healthcare and social care in the future. Whilst people can review the information at https://www.fitformyfuture and feedback their thoughts via an online questionnaire located in the ‘get involved’ section, it’s a shame that such a big and important consultation has been appears to be designed for the convenience of the staff involved, rather than looking to get the maximum amount of feedback from across all ages and social groups.

Anyway if you’d like to give your feedback – here are the places and times when you can do so:

  • Berrow Village Hall, Burnham-on-Sea, Monday 15th October, 3pm – 6.30pm
  • Great Bow Wharf, Langport, Wednesday 17th October, 10am- 2pm
  • Balsam Centre, Wincanton, Tuesday 23rd October, 10am- 2pm
  • Axbridge Town Hall, Axbridge, Thursday 25th October, 10am- 2pm
  • Hub Nub, Frome, Monday 29th of October, 10am- 2pm
  • The Arts Centre, Wellington, Tuesday 30th October , 12.30pm – 4.30pm
  • Ilminster Town Hall, Ilminster, Wednesday 31st October, 3.30pm – 7pm
  • Victoria Park Community Centre, Bridgwater, Tuesday 6th November, 10am- 2pm
  • Hen Hayes, Crewkerne, Wednesday 7th November, 4pm – 7pm
  • The Guildhall, Chard, Monday 12th November, 12.00pm – 4pm
  • Albermarle Centre, Taunton, Wednesday 14th November, 10am- 2pm
  • Shape Mendip, Shepton Mallet, Thursday 15th November, 10am- 2pm
  • Brushford Parish Hall, Dulverton, Tuesday 20th November, 3.30pm – 7pm
  • Glastonbury Town Hall, Glastonbury, Wednesday 21st November, 10am- 2pm
  • The Hub, Minehead, Monday 26th November, 1.30pm – 5.30pm
  • Abbey Manor Centre, Yeovil, Tuesday 27th November, 1.30pm – 5.30pm

Pedestrian dies following Langport accident

Following on from our report yesterday, we are sorry to announce that the man who was hit by a car on Tuesday night in Langport has since died of his injuries. The police have not as yet released his name.

The man who was in his 70s and walking on crutches at the time of the incident, was airlifted to Southmead Hospital after being hit by a silver Vauxhall Corsa car on North Street at about 7.50pm.

We understand the incident happened on the zebra crossing outside Huish Episcopi Primary School and Tesco.

The police are particularly anxious to get more information from people who may have seen the accident. If you did see anything on Tuesday night please contact the police at the Collision Investigation Unit using the phone number 101. Please give the call handler the reference number 5218226552.

Incident in Langport

Last night (Tuesday 9th October) there was a serious accident in Langport North Street where a pedestrian was injured by a silver Vauxhall Corsa at around 7.50pm.

The pedestrian was a man in his 70’s who was badly injured and had to be airlifted to Southmeads Hospital, Bristol where he remains in a life threatening condition.

The car stopped at the scene and police were able to take an initial statement from the driver . However they now need more information from anyone who might have witnessed the incident.

If you were in North Street at the time and saw what happened, please contact the police at the Collision Investigation Unit using the phone number 101. Please give the call handler the reference number 5218226552.