As we reported at the end of January, during the recent snow and ice we saw a number of Road Traffic Collisions (RTCs) on previously-treated routes plus road closures and traffic disruption. Last year, despite warnings from opposition councillors, Somerset County Council cut a sizeable part of the network that is treated with grit in the event of cold weather.
So despite the passionate insistence that the roads had been gritted and that the change to the gritting patterns had not contributed to the chaos, we were interested to read that Somerset County Council, at its Cabinet meeting today, Monday 11th February, looks set to reverse those cuts.
Cllr Mike Rigby, Opposition Spokesman for Transportation and Councillor for the Lydeard Division told us he had been handed reports of many vehicles sliding out of control onto the A358 from Bishops Lydeard and collisions in the village. His childrens’ school bus was struck by a car that lost control on a road where gritting had been abandoned. Cllr Rigby was also informed that by 11.00 am on Wednesday 30th January, the Police were not able to summon ambulances to RTCs, they were so numerous in number.
On Friday SCC included in a report for Cabinet proposals to reverse the cuts to the gritting programme.
Cllr Rigby told us “…We will need to keep a close eye on how this proceeds though and ensure that the reinstatement occurs THIS winter and that road users are not kept waiting until next winter – the long-range forecast suggests another cold spell in 2 weeks’ time and the public will not forgive the council if its gritting plan falls apart like a cheap suit again.”
Cllr Rigby has also asked for answers as to why those routes that WERE gritted during Tuesday 29th January’s fairly light snowfall quickly became impassable with RTCs on the A39 at Kilve and the A358 at Flaxpool.
we have just received an Avon and Somerset Police. They have confirmed that the missing mother and baby from Glastonbury have been found safe and well.
Private members bills have been a nightmare in Parliament since the 2017 elections. Christopher Chop, MP for Christchurch has shouted object to just about every Private Members Bill as it comes before the House in the limited time available for debate. Chope claims this is a matter of principle – as there is insufficient time to debate the bills properly, mainly due to the amount of Parliamentary time taken up by Brexit related matters.
This argument would have some credibility, were it not for the fact that Chope himself has introduced so many Private Members Bills himself, he is actually one of the root causes of the problem. And of course he never shouyts object to his own bills.
One of the casualties of the Chope approach, has been David Warburton’s attempt to get through the Rivers Authorities and Land Drainage Bill. This is the Bill which would set the Somerset Rivers Authority on a proper financial footing, allowing it to raise a rate just like the Police and Fire Brigade.
However the Government has taken pity on the MP for Somerton & Frome and adopted the Bill as part of their legislative programme. So when, at the third time of asking, the Bill cam before Parliament on the 8th February there was no-one to shout “object” and it was properly debated and duly survived to move onto the next stage of asking.
The Bill drew support from Conservative MPs and also from the Labour Shadow Minister which bodes well for its future passage.
It now moves to a public bill committee for consideration. The job of the public bill committee is to debate and consider amendments to a Bill. The committee considers each Bill clause by clause, and may amend it. We’ll report back as and when the Bill moves on to the next stage.
Some more information on the new S151 officer appointed by Somerset County Council. We can’t use the abbreviation SCC here for reasons which will become obvious!
Shelia Collins (previously Sheila Little) worked as Finance Director of Surrey County Council until July 2018 when as we reported yesterday, she left at the very time the council was trying to balance a budget that looked as if it would overspend by £11m.
The Leveller has obtained details of senior salaries at Surrey County Council that suggest in 2017 (we have not been able to obtain the figures for 2018/19) the Finance Director of Surrey County Council was paid £119,518.
No doubt she received a further pay rise for 2018/19 but for the moment hold onto that figure.
The amount she proposed for her pay by Somerset County Council is nearly double that. At £900 a day her annual salary is of the order of £211,000 assuming five weeks off for holidays and bank holidays. That is some £60,000 more than the Prime Minister.
We recognise that the pay being offered here is on a short term contract. But the proposed contract is for 13 months.
Does this justify a near doubling of her pay?
And does it justify that for someone who left her job when it was starting to get difficult? Especially given the difficulties Somerset County Council have also experienced in balancing the books.
We understand that unlike the arrangements back in 2014 when Peter Lewis and a deputy were brought in to turn around Children’s Services, this time the pay rates have not been paid via an agency. Agencies typically add anything from 15% to 20% to the cost of a contract.
In other words the full amount of £900 a day is being paid directly to Sheila Collins.
Who is the new s151 officer for Somerset County Council?
Sheila Collins, as her LinkedIn CV shows, comes from Surrey County Council where she was the s151 Officer. She had been with them since 2007.
Is she the sort of person that likes to get stuck into council finances when things are getting tough, as they clearly are in Somerset right now.
When in July 2018 Surrey County Council faced an overspend of £11.8m overspend on its 2018–19 budget Sheila Little, as she then was, simply walked out.
A statement from the council explained: “We’ve embarked upon a comprehensive transformation programme to deliver the best outcomes for our residents, and this is requiring a new approach across the county council. Sheila Little has decided that this is a good time for her to pursue other opportunities and we wish her well with these.”
This is not a ringing endorsement of the person brought in to try and stabilise the finances at Somerset County Council.
No doubt Somerset County Council considered this, but it begs a question over why the recruitment process was stopped for a full time s151 officer for Somerset? Were there no other candidates?
In the meantime those with longer memories may recall the debacle of Sheila Wheeler’s tenure as CEO of Somerset County Council. For now we can only hope history is not about to repeat itself.
We are sorry to report that one of the longest serving postmasters in Somerset passed away yesterday. Mrs Peggy Gange-Harris, who died on 7 February had run the Post Office in Othery for the past 41 years and was well respected in the village.
Her family opened the branch today as a mark of respect to their beloved mother who had run the Post Office since 17 July 1977. Unfortunately her family are unable to continue to operate the branch. We offer them our condolences.
A Post Office spokesperson, told The Leveller “We are saddened by the news that the Postmaster for Othery has died and the branch is temporarily closed after today. We understand how important a Post Office is to a community and we would like to reassure customers that we will work hard to restore a Post Office in Othery. The nearest alternative branches are Middlezoy and Langport.”
The full addresses of the alternative branches are:
- Middlezoy Post Office, Methodist Church, Middlezoy, Bridgwater, TA7 0NZ (open Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday: 8.45am – 12 noon; 2 – 5pm)
- Langport Post Office, Bow Street, Langport, TA10 9PQ (open Monday to Friday: 8am – 5.30ppm; Saturday: 8am – 4pm).
24 hours is a long time in the life of Somerset County Council. Yesterday they confirmed a new (temporary) s151 officer had been appointed. Sheila Collins is to receive a salary of £900 a day which works out, assuming usual leave etc at around about £211,500. This is around £61,000 more than the Prime Minister and will make her one of the highest paid local government officers in the country.
SCC have struggled to recruit a full time S151 officer (finance director to you and me). Ms Collins will be on a 13 month contract which appears to breach SCC’s own rules which suggest posts over £500 a day should be for 6 months and then reviewed.
Meanwhile just a day later the news from CEO Patrick Flaherty is of yet another re-organisation of staff at County Hall. The only think that has been constant in County Hall over the past few years is the constant state of change. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but it usually costs money, it is disruptive to staff and morale sapping.
And if you can afford over £200 big ones for your finance chief, clearly money is not an issue.
Is this change for changes sake? I’ll leave you with the CEO’s own words:
“I think we need big change. So, does that mean something is desperately wrong and needs fixing? Absolutely not. I look back at the last four or five years with huge pride in what you have achieved. I’m very satisfied with where we are, but I know we have the potential do a whole lot more.”
A new Charitable Incorporated Organisation (C.I.O.) has been formed to run the Somerton Recreation Ground Trust. It will commence operations in April 2019.
The object of the Trust is to continue the work done by the previous iterations of the Trust and the management committee running the recreation ground.
A it has for the last 50 years, the new CIO will ‘provide and maintain a Recreation Ground for the inhabitants of Somerton without distinction of political, religious or other opinions, with the object of improving the conditions of life for the said inhabitants’.
There is just one thing missing…..
The new Trust is looking for people from the community of Somerton to come forward and apply to act as trusttes of the new organisation. They will also need a volunteer secretary, and potentially an Events Co-Ordinator Neither of whom are required to be Trustees
If you are interested in applying please contact the current Chair, David Osmond, by phone on 07876 563411 or by email at email@example.com .
Avon & Somerset Police have asked for help to find Emma Elms and her six-month-old child. Emma who lives in Glastonbury has gone missing from her home and police are concerned for her welfare and that of her child.
Emma is described as as white, aged 35, 5ft 6ins tall and of medium build. She has cropped brown hair. Police believe she is driving a silver Citroen Picasso, registration EA52 NMV.
She may still be in the Somerset area but equally may have travelled anywhere in the country.
Anybody with information regarding Emma’s whereabouts is asked to contact Avon and Somerset police by calling 101, quoting reference number 5219027073. Alternatively call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.
We have just been notified by the Police that Luke Mulcahy has just been found safe and well.
Many thanks to all of you for keeping an eye open and helping to bring this story to a conclusion.