Category Archives: Uncategorized

MP accuses SomersetLive of fake news!

Ian Liddell Grainger has taken aim at Somerset Live. Last week the Local Democracy Service reported on their website that Jacob Rees-Mogg supported the One Somerset proposal. Not so says Ian Liddell Grainger, MP for Bridgwater and West Somerset.

To clarify the point he returned to the House this week to put his point again. He reports that “We both agree that the plan suggested by Somerset County Council for a single unitary covering only the area already occupied by the county council simply is not good enough.” On his blog he goes on to note “sadly, Somerset Live got the wrong end of the stick and published a news report that Jacob was backing Somerset County Council

In the House Mr Rees-Mogg was suitably aghast. He told the House “I’m appalled at fake news should come to this House and to this country. I thought that was something that was left to our friends across the Atlantic”

However he did not venture to support either the Stronger Somerset or One Somerset business case. Instead he offered that “we should listen to all councils and get all their views

Wells mental health ward to close

It all seems like a different age. In many ways it was. It is two and a half years since we reported on plans by the Somerset Clinical Commissioning Group to relocate 14 adult mental health service beds from Wells to Yeovil.

Today that process was finally approved following what the CCG describe “a two and a half-year period of engagement and consultation with staff, patients, carers and colleagues in the voluntary sector and people with an interest in mental health to co-create a new model of mental health care for Somerset”

The proposal will see the 14 adult mental health beds move from Wells to Yeovil before the end of the year. Part of the logic for the move was the proximity to a hospital, which Yeovil could offer and Wells could not. James Rimmer, Chief Executive at Somerset Clinical Commissioning Group explains “By relocating the beds from Wells to Yeovil we can co-locate the two wards to provide support to staff on either ward in the event of an emergency, extend medical cover to 24/7 and ensure that our wards are close to an Emergency Department in case of a physical health need.”

The ward at St Andrew in Wells will close as part of the plans. While the logic of the move is understandable, NHS management in Somerset does not have the best record with these things. There is a ward on the St Andrews site that was closed after being fully refurbished at great expense. The ward has stood empty for over a decade and the new equipment left to rot.

With the closure of this adult ward there will inevitably questions over the future of mental health provision in Mendip. During the consultation period many people in Wells and the surrounding area expressed strong feelings about the proposal. They be disappointed by today’s decision.

Shepton Motorbike theft

Burglars broke into two garages in Shepton Mallet yesterday (23 September). The thieves struck between 6.15pm yesterday evening and 1.15am this morning in the Charlton Road area of the town. After breaking in to the garages a Triumph Spirit motorbike and a set of Ping golf clubs were stolen. The bike was found abandoned this morning In Paulton.

Avon & Somerset Police are now conducting house to house enquiries to try and get as much information as possible. they are appealing for witnesses to the crime. If you saw anything out of the ordinary or anyone acting suspiciously in the area please contact  101 quoting reference 5220216880.

Meanwhile the Police are warning local residents to to remain vigilant and to check their properties for any signs of forced entry. 

Somerset COVID cases rise slowly

The latest figures published for the Somerset County Council area show a steady rise in COVID cases but nothing like the exponential rise experienced in other parts of the county. The latest figures produced to 23 September show 26 new cases reported. That takes the total since the outbreak of the pandemic to 1,511.

But first our own health warning about what these figures are – and are not. Unlike NHS data this includes care homes and incidences of COVID 19 “at home”. The data is prepared to 23 September for cases (although different dates are used for some of the other figures – for instance deaths are reported to 11 September). The reason for this delay is to keep the numbers accurate. The daily totals published by the NHS are subject to constant revision, as not unreasonably, the data is constantly being updated to improve accuracy. It is also worth noting that the SCC area does not include North Somerset (so Weston hospital) or BANES (So the RUH in Bath) both of which are separate administrative areas.

Interestingly the number of new cases is smaller than we reported last week when 58 new cases were noted. The trend is levelling off. However that in itself is no reason for complacency.

The numbers of infections in schools is both worrying, but also, an inevitable consequence of opening them up. Infections have been reported at Bishop’s Fox Taunton, Parkfield School, Mama Bear’s Nursery, Brookside Academy (Street) and Crispin School also in Street.

In all cases the guidance is for all infected year groups to self isolate at home until they can get a test. And as we have reported before, therein lies the problem. As long as testing is proving difficult, if not impossible to get, then large numbers of children will miss out. The point of reopening schools was to ensure pupils did not miss out on education.

Right now it is hard to avoid the conclusion that too many are missing out anyway. Unable to get a test, and potentially causing family members to need to self isolate too. The danger from the pandemic is bad enough. But if the testing problem is not resolved soon, we will have economic and education paralysis.

Better news comes with the figures for deaths. As noted above, these figures are only to 11 September. However no new deaths have been recorded and the total remains at 206.

If we take the overall picture for Somerset, the outbreak appears well managed (subject to testing availability). The impact to date is much lower than in most of the rest of the country. That should mean we can maintain our ability to keep our economy open and avoid the more stringent lockdowns now being experienced in South Wales and the North East.

However Somerset County Council are warning that a large proportion of the cases seen in the past two weeks have come from the Mendip area. Trudi Grant, Somerset’s Director for Public Health, told us “This is another stark reminder of the paramount importance in remaining vigilant and following the government guidance as we see increasing cases across Somerset, particularly in the Mendip area.  Public health teams continue to support communities, businesses and schools, providing advice and guidance on what to do if someone starts to show symptoms or tests positive.

It is a wake up call. At least it should be. We have avoided the worst so far. But if the public do not remain vigilant, follow guidelines around hygiene and masks, we could be faced with more severe restrictions. A local lockdown in Mendip would be unwelcome as it would anywhere in the county. What happens next remains in the hands of the public.

As ever we have attached the full dataset released this week so you can draw your own conclusions

Chard to get another £1m injection

Chard was already getting something of a fresh look. There is a new scheme for a leisure centre pool and a general upgrade to the Boden’s Mill area of town. Work restarted on that during the lockdown and it continues to this day.

This work was funded by South Somerset District Council.

Now central government is distributing more cash through the High Street Heritage Action Zone programme. According to a government release sent today, 68 High Streets across Britain will receive the funds. A total of £95m has been set aside for the scheme. The money is to be used to kickstart economic recovery, halt declining footfall as well as improving the social and cultural facilities in each area.

The Leveller® understands that Chard is due to receive £1m under this scheme. The money will be given to South Somerset District Council who will work with Historic England to develop and deliver plans for the town.

Thefts in Cannington

A number of workshop units in the village of Cannington were broken into on Monday night/Tuesday morning (that’s the 21/22 September). Among the items stolen were a large number of power tools. Also taken were a quad bike, a ride-on lawn mower and a pressure washer.

Avon & Somerset Police are now appealing for witnesses. Did you see anything suspicious? Anything out of the ordinary? An unknown vehicle?

Be wary if you are offered any similar items for sale second hand. Especially if it is not through a regular retailer.

If you can help the police with their investigation call 101 and provide the call handler with the reference 5220215162.

Technology launched to help Somerset’s dementia sufferers

An innovative new wristband is to be launched tomorrow to help dementia sufferers in Somerset. It is funded through a collaboration between the Senior Citizen Liaison Team, Avon & Somerset Police and Avon Fire & Rescue Service. As with the best technology, the wristband is neatly simple. It stores essential information about the wearer, including their name and details of next of kin. It uses Near-Field-Communication (NFC) , a set of communication protocols that work over a distance of 4 cm (1​12 in) or less. NFC allows low-speed connection and uses relatively simple technology, It is similar to the way in which we use debit cards for contactless payments.

The information can be accessed via the NFC app when a mobile is held nearby. This has the advantage of eliminating the the need for physical contact which could cause distress to a dementia patient. The information on the wristband can be used to get the wearer back to safety should they be found whilst lost or confused.

However everyone is keen to stress that this is a passive device. It is not used for tracking and contains non-personal data to ensure the safety of the wearer.

Avon and Somerset Police and Crime Commissioner Sue Mountstevens was impressed “According to the Alzheimer’s Society there are around 850,000 people in the UK living with dementia. The Dementia Safeguarding Scheme is a fantastic way of protecting so many vulnerable people who suffer from this horrible disease. I welcome any opportunity to think differently how we can work together to prevent vulnerable adults from becoming another ‘missing person’.

New Plans for Future of (Taunton) High Street

We have reported previously on plans being developed by the landlord of Debenhams, Taunton. Whilst the future of the department store remains uncertain, they were keen to look at alternatives.

A series of plans and revisions have been put up for public consultation. Whilst they are intended to be specifically for Debenhams, they talk to the future of High Streets in general. This is why the project caught our eye. As more and more High Street chains go out of business, this sort of project becomes highly relevant. It starts to ask the question “What is the 21st Century High Street for”.

The final stage of the consultation begins on Thursday 24 September, when the most recent work will be published on the consultation website for public feedback. In addition, there will be a webinar on Tuesday 29 September, 6pm to 7pm to give members of the public the opportunity to ask questions directly. The consultation website is at www.19to26NorthStreet.co.uk, and registration for the webinar is direct via bit.ly/19to26NorthStreetWebinar

The main change in this latest version of the plans relates to the residential element of the plans. In the initial iteration, these had been age restricted – aimed at over 55s. This aspect of the proposal drew a number of negative comments so the plans are now for unrestricted accommodation.

The final consultation will focus on the design of the building and the reasons for the design decisions taken. In addition to public feedback, designs have been shaped by emerging local policy and discussions with Somerset West & Taunton Council.

COVID cases at Brookside Academy, Street

Brookside Academy in Street has written to parents warning that two pupils have tested positive for COVID 19. One in year 2 and a second in year 6.

We reported a similar incident in Taunton last week. Year groups at Bishop Foxton’s were asked to self-isolate after pupils with the virus were identified.

Interestingly this time the advice appears to have changed. Although, as was the case with Bishop Foxes, the school is taking advice from Public Health England. The school say they have been told they can remain open. All pupils should attend classes as normal unless they show symptoms.

Pupils showing symptoms must self isolate and attempt to get a test.

Raid on Bridgwater house

Sedgemoor District Council have just released information on a raid they carried out on a house in Bridgwater. The operation took place and involved not just the council’s Housing Standards Officers. They were joined by officers from Avon and Somerset Police and the Gang Masters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA).

The address of the property is not being disclosed for legal reasons although we understand it was in Bridgwater.  When the various officials entered the property they discovered that it was significantly overcrowded.  They believed the house would have had sufficient facilities for five people to live there.

Instead they found fourteen people living there.   Officers also found spare mattresses in a toy play house in the garden as well as within the house which suggested that there were even more than 14.

No details were released about why so many people were living in cramped quarters. However the fact that the GLAA issued a statement speaks volumes. They noted “The GLAA exists to protect vulnerable workers in the UK and this is a good example of multi-agency partnership working to achieve that aim. The Gangmasters (Licensing) Act requires people to have a licence to provide workers into agriculture, horticulture, shellfish gathering, food processing and associated packaging.  It provides safeguards for those at risk of exploitation and ensures that workers get what they are lawfully entitled to.  If we find evidence that our licensing scheme is not being followed, either deliberately or more simply through ignorance of the legislation, we will not hesitate to take appropriate action.”

Separately Sedgemoor District Council issued their own statement on the matter. “Sedgemoor will be taking emergency action to limit the numbers in the property by serving a Prohibition Order.  Prosecutions for operating an HMO without a licence can see a Civil Penalty of up to £30,000 or unlimited in the Courts. If convicted, any landlord would also be placed on the national database for Rogue Landlords. This would prevent the landlord from managing any HMO’s in the future. Proceeds of income from rent could also be confiscated.

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