The Council Meeting started with a welcome from the Chair and Mayor, Cllr Anita Collier, the meeting began with the usual signing of the minutes and questions and comments from public and Cllrs. Mendip Cllr Adam Boyden attended the meeting and gave an update on the proposed Easthill social housing development, a Mendip District Council (MDC) cabinet meeting is arranged for Thursday 26th at 6:30pm where Mendip’s affordable housing programme is being reconsidered as the Scrutiny Board referred it back to cabinet at a meeting on Monday 16th November.
First up, Kate Hellard, Frome Town Council’s (FTC) Community Development Manager, gave an update on the work the Council has been carrying out since the second lockdown. The foundations were laid in the work carried out in the first lockdown period, where the staff were redeployed to help the residents of Frome, particularly those who were isolated, which meant we were in a good position to pick this up along with partner organisations in the second lockdown, so we were prepared.
Kate informed the meeting that FTC have handed over the Shop for Me volunteer shopping programme to Active and in Touch who are the ideal partners as they can offer the befriending service should this also be needed. Emergency food parcels haven’t been called on so far during this second lockdown and FTC can assist if needed. Somerset County Council now also have food supplies too.
FTC have supported Frome Community Drivers who have continued to deliver prescriptions and co-ordinate driving to medical appointments, they have also filled the gap where Mendip Community Transport Services have been unable to provide covid safe transport.
FTC continue to look for gaps and to actively prepare for the far-reaching impacts of this second lockdown, particularly the economic impact, and therefore working closely with Fair Frome, Citizens Advice Mendip and Fair Housing for Frome.
Kate mentioned that Mental Health services are in demand and that Somerset County Council have brought all of the mental health partners together and now offer a 24/7 service through Mind in Somerset. This includes a staffed telephone number both for adults and children and young people. Kate also confirmed that FTC’s front-line staff are still signposting residents and businesses via calls through to the telephone main line.
Following this Paul Wynne, FTC’s Town Clerk, gave us an update on the revised Work Programme. He highlighted that this hasn’t been a normal year, it’s been “bumpy” and that the Work Programme and budget have changed much more six months into the financial year than in previous years. There has been extra work due to Covid-19, events cancelled and recommendations from the Recovery Panels held earlier in the year. Therefore, a revised Work Programme has now been produced and was shared for review prior to the meeting. In summary, the revised programme is deliverable and dependant on some external grants applications. Paul confirmed that if these grants are not successful Cllrs might need to prune the Work Programme a little.
Sarah Williams, FTC’s Business Manager, followed by running through the details of the finances halfway through the financial year. Sarah detailed some of the unexpected costs – in the region of £149k – which came directly as a result of the response to the Coronavirus pandemic. These costs will be covered by budget cuts and savings, releasing two Ear Marked Reserves and the partial use of General Reserves, alongside a grant of £35k received from Mendip District Council. Additional costs for the Market Place improvements were also discussed. Peter Wheelhouse, Economic Development & Regeneration Manager, confirmed that the actual amount is still being negotiated. Lizzie Boyle suggested a review of how the project went to continue to learn. Cllrs approved the recommendations.
Paul Wynne then provided Cllrs with an update on the unitary process. Since the last update in June, the Government has confirmed that there will be a unitary arrangement in Somerset. This will be the biggest shake up in local government for a couple of generations and it will change how local government operates. There will be significant opportunities as well as challenges. But there is the possibility that Frome may have more of a say in how things are done in Frome by councils.
Paul provided a timeline; the two businesses cases (Stronger Somerset and One Somerset) will be submitted to Government by 9th December and then a period of Government led consultations will take place. The new unitary will come online in April 2023 with the elections likely to take place a year earlier. Paul also confirmed that both business cases included all seven recommendations that Cllrs agreed on back in June.
Paul has also been working with the Society for Local Council Clerks, who will be commissioning a report to flesh out the original seven recommendations. This report will be a kind of “toolkit” for parishes, and district and county councils as they embark on their unitary journey. The report will be brought to Council in the New Year for discussion. Paul’s full report can be found here.
The details of everything mentioned above can be found at www.frometowncouncil.gov.uk and the next Council meeting will be on 20th January 2021. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to keep updated on everything we’re up to.