New broom CEO for South Somerset District Council

In July 2015, South Somerset District Council suddenly terminated an arrangement whereby they and East Devon District Council shared a CEO Mark Williams. This severance cost SSDC upwards of £100,000. No reason was given at the time but SSDC decided temporarily to have a management team without an overall CEO. Mark Williams, whose salary and hours had been shared 50/50 with SSDC returned to EDDC full-time (though we seem to have been managing quite well with his half-time the job split).

At the time the two councils seemed keen on sharing even more posts but the CEO post was the only one that ever emerged.

Fast forward a year and South Somerset now has a new CEO – Alex Parmley:

Alex is currently a Corporate Director at Eastleigh Borough Council where he leads a major business transformation programme, as well as the building of the new Fleming Park regional leisure centre, regeneration and regional schemes to support business growth and jobs through innovation and the green economy. Prior to working at Eastleigh, Alex was a Director and General Manager at Weymouth and Portland Borough Council and also worked at Parramatta City Council, Australia, leading the implementation of their City Strategy.”

For background on the old and new appointments see:

Click to access 8%20Recruitment%20of%20New%20CEO%20Report.pdf

Some things about this train of events will forever remain a mystery it seems.

Two Somerset district councils merge

Isn’t it interesting that our projected merger of many services with South Somerset failed at the first hurdle when South Somerset declined to share our CEO Mark Williams and, after a couple of years decided to ” buy him out” and manage without both him and merged services.

Let’s hope these two councils have better luck and get a CEO that suits them both.

… Last week also saw councillors at Taunton Deane back plans for a tie-up with West Somerset. Two other options had been considered: one team supporting two councils; and the two councils progressing their own transformation agendas.

Taunton Deane said a merged council “would generate significant savings, estimated at a conservative £3.1m a year”. It acknowledged that there would be costs involved to implement the merger but added that the payback was estimated at just over two years.

Taunton Deane and West Somerset have been working in partnership with a single officer team for the past three years.

Cllr John Williams, Leader of Taunton Deane, said: “The proposal for transformation is radical and will bring change on a scale not seen before for our communities, our customers, our staff and ourselves as members.
“The decision is important, and will ensure we can continue to invest in our growth ambitions, deliver services to our public, and importantly, help us take a huge step towards having a financially sustainable future.”

He warned that if West Somerset decided against supporting the merger, it would “inevitably trigger the third option with the councils taking separate routes to pursue their own agendas”.

Cllr Williams said the business case for a merger had been reviewed by Local Partnerships, the company jointly owned by HM Treasury and the Local Government Association, which “had found it realistic, deliverable and credible”.

If West Somerset approves the merger proposals next month, the councils will seek meetings with Government representatives in order to kick-start the process and the creation of a new authority.

The new council is likely to come into existence in 2019 when the next local government elections are due.

Devon Health Service Commissioner reduces number of senior posts

From eight very highly paid senior managers to five – well, it’s a start.

Whereas, in East Devon, after managing perfectly well on half a CEO when we shared him with South Somerset, we had to take him back full-time when they decided they could do without him.

It’s official: Devon and Somerset councils plan to merge: whither EDDC’s new HQ?

“Councillors from across Devon and Somerset have agreed on a joint devolution bid to secure greater control over skills, growth and employment in the region.

The decision follows a summit of county, unitary and district council chiefs in Exeter today, which brought local authorities one step closer to a devolution deal for the region.

Current plans propose an organisation based on the boundaries of the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), with a focus on economic development and job creation.

Commenting on the progress, Devon County Council leader John Hart said the level of agreement had been “very encouraging”.

“It’s important that we present a united front to the Government,” he said.

“I have always said that we can do things more effectively and more efficiently locally than being told what to do by London.

“The big themes we hope to focus on are on skills, economic growth and improving productivity, as well as infrastructure so we can ensure our road and rail network is more resilient than it has been in the past.

“Doing the very best for our older residents by coordinating health and social care and affordable homes for our young people are also key themes.”

The announcement follows the confirmation of a devolution offer for Cornwall last month – the first non-urban deal of its kind.

LEP chief executive Chris Garcia was at the meeting, along with leaders from Devon’s eight district councils and Torbay mayor Gordon Oliver.

Councillors have previously indicated a bid could involve a “double devolution” model, under which the counties and unitary authorities would receive powers from central government and pass them down – where appropriate – to districts.

There has also been discussion of “soft” boundaries which would enable different parts of the region to reach individual devolution deals while still collaborating with neighbouring authorities.

The next round of devolution applications are due for submission in September.”

Mark Williams to leave South Somerset by the end of this month?

Oddly, discussions on alternative arrangement have taken place only with Conservative and Independent councillors and this is on the council’s agenda for this Thursday:

” …the Leader and Deputy Leader together with the Conservative Group and Independent Group Leaders met with the Leader of EDDC to discuss the current situation and the resolution of Council. As a result of those discussions it has been agreed with EDDC, subject to approval by Council, that the existing agreement be terminated by mutual consent and that to reflect the fact that EDDC could have insisted upon being served 12 months’ notice by this Council from 1st October 2015 that the Council pay 6 months’ worth of the fees due to EDDC. This equates to a one-off payment of £42,124.87. In addition it has been jointly agreed that if approved by Council, termination should take effect from 31st July 2015.”

Click to access 8%20Council%20Report%20July%202015%20FINAL.pdf

Fairies ignore planning rules in South Somerset …

perhaps shared CEO Mark Williams can get it sorted before the elections, unless, of course, it’s politically sensitive!

South Somerset now has a Local Plan in place

Thanks to the correspondent who sent in two related pieces of news: firstly, that South Somerset’s Local Plan has just been declared sound:  and secondly, that the Conservative parliamentary candidate has adopted a stance that would get him elected here!

‘SOMERSET: District reaches ‘major milestone’ in Local Plan process

SOUTH Somerset District Council’s Local Plan, which will act as a guideline for development up until 2028, has been deemed “sound” by a government inspector, subject to a series of modifications.

The council’s received the inspector David Hogger’s report on the Local Plan (2006-2028) on January 8th, marking a “significant point” in the process of formally adopting the plan.

The necessary modifications listed in the report are the same as those consulted upon by the council in March and November 2014, and the document can be read in full online at

The report ratifies the council’s objectives to deliver 15,950 homes and 11,250 jobs by 2028, and confirms the council’s ambition for how towns, villages and rural areas will grow and change. It also endorses the policies against which the council will judge planning applications for homes, businesses, community facilities and infrastructure provision across the district.

The next step is for the council to make the proposed changes and present the final Local Plan to a meeting of full council on March 5th. Councillors will be asked to approve and adopt the plan and allow the policies to come into full effect.

Councillor Tim Carroll, deputy leader and portfolio holder for Finance and Spatial Planning, whose responsibilities include the Local Plan, emphasised the importance of the conclusions in the Inspector’s Report.

He commented: “This is a major milestone for the council. The overall conclusion of the inspector is that the SSDC Local Plan and the 12 modifications that were incorporated during the process are sound and therefore the plan itself is capable of adoption without any further change.

“It has been a lengthy process and I would pay tribute to everyone’s hard work over the last few years. We have reacted positively to the inspector’s requests to make changes and it is pleasing that these have now been confirmed. These changes have been fully debated and subject to extensive consultation.

“The plan focuses on bringing much needed homes and jobs to the district in the right number and place and having the formal sign-off by the Inspector puts the council in a stronger position to make better decisions about the future of South Somerset and to resist inappropriate or speculative applications. We will now move quickly to formally adopt the plan and that date has now been set for March 5th for a meeting of all councillors”.

Despite the inspector finding the Local Plan “sound”, Conservative parliamentary candidate for the Yeovil constituency, Marcus Fysh, has questioned the process the council has followed over the past eight years to reach this point.

He said he has “mixed feelings” about the report, as many good things are at risk from the bad, and claimed the proposed housing figure was too high, which he fears will “do a huge disservice to our district”.

‘Not as simple as it seems’

Mr Fysh commented: “It’s now about eight years and over £2.8million of public money which have been spent by South Somerset District Council attempting to make and adopt a Local Plan, a document with power in law to direct how much housing should be built and where it will go in our area.

“Having found the initial plan submitted in 2013 unsound, the planning inspector sent to our area by the Planning Inspectorate to assess the proposals has now issued his decision on a plan revised and resubmitted by South Somerset District Council last year.

“In that decision he has found the amended plan sound, although the decision has some peculiar reasoning and assertions that suggest he may not have properly applied his mind, which may tempt opponents of the plan to challenge it, and it is not as simple a matter as it seems.

“A lot appears to have been left to the concept of ‘early review’, in which the housing figures will be looked at bi-annually.

“And that gets to the nub of the problem with this plan and the process the council has followed to get to this stage: sadly, it may not be the last we hear about controversial planning decisions in our area.

“It is true that an adopted plan should give certainty to residents and developers alike, and on the face of it we should welcome that the inspector has not sent the district council right back to the drawing board.

“But the housing figure is a key problem. The council has been obsessed with keeping the overall housing requirement high, despite good evidence that it is too high, to the extent that many aspects of the plan have changed over the years, but the one thing that strangely has not, has been the 15,950 house building figure they have ‘aspired’ to over 20 years. Some say it is because they get extra revenue as a ‘New Homes Bonus’, which allows them to avoid cutting their spending cloth to suit in other areas (this amounted to £3million last year).

“Somehow they seem to have persuaded the inspector, against the evidence and legal precedent, to keep this number, which I fear will do a huge disservice to our district in the medium term.

“The problem is that the housing figure means that over 1,000 new houses per annum will need to be built in the district in each of the next five years if the district is not to be adjudged at planning appeals as not having met its target. Were the target not met, in planning law the Local Plan would be regarded as not up to date and would not apply at appeal hearings, therefore it would be ‘open season’ for developers again.

“There is only one year in the last 20 in which more than 1,000 houses were built, when the district grabbed money on offer from Gordon Brown and fast tracked developments with a mixed record at at Wyndham Park and Wincanton. The rest of the time the district has built around 500 houses per year, which gives an idea just how far short we could fall behind.

“So, it is with mixed feelings that I look at the inspector’s report. A lot of the good things in the plan are sadly at risk from the bad things. I am not against all development, but it has to be in the right place and have the right infrastructure and facilities.

“In Chard, for example, we want to get the regeneration scheme in place and not overload the roads through the town, and the plan looks to do that, but this will not apply if the district’s housing target is missed.

“In Ilminster we want development to complement the existing town, not turn the town into an over-built dormitory. Over-development is a risk if the housing target is missed, a recipe for even more unhappiness on all sides of the town’s development issues.

“Crewkerne and Wincanton have been told they may get more housing, depending on early review by the council, and would lose control if the housing target is missed.

“And Yeovil, which needs to get more people living downtown to regenerate and support its businesses, shops and restaurants, but doesn’t on the real numbers require yet more big urban extensions, faces yet more bolt-on green field developments that do little to upgrade the town’s infrastructure. That process would just accelerate and be even less controlled if the house build target is not met, with consequent problems for school places, traffic and health care availability.

“South Petherton faces similar pressures that could get even worse.

“One thing is clear to me; the old thinking about development in our area is stale. A huge opportunity has been missed locally to plan for development in many areas that will solve problems rather than create them.

“I do hope later this year local Conservative councillors may be in a position to review these matters and put proper solutions in place, in control of the district council. To do that we need to vote for them though. I will certainly give them my full support.” ‘

South Somerset District Councillor lives in America, claims allowances

And there is nothing anyone can do about it as the rules say a councillor only has to attend one full council meeting every six months. And even if you never attend a meeting, as long as the Chairman accepts apologies they don’t actually need to do anything at all.

Some councils publish statistics about how many meetings their councillors attend – but not South Somerset or East Devon.

An everyday story of countryfolk …

Young woman: Dad, what would you think of Pete Exeter as a husband for me?

Father: Now, hold on young lady, we know nothing about him. What are his job prospects? Can he offer you a good lifestyle? Is he trustworthy? And what do we know about those relatives that he’s so cosy with – the Teignbridges? I need to know a whole lot more about him and them before I can answer that question. We East-Devons don’t just jump into things without thinking about them first, you know.

Young woman: Too late, Dad. We got married yesterday. Now, about you – you’ve been alone too long, so I’ve set up a blind date for you with a woman I met on the bus – seems nice – Southie Somerset is her name. Oh, and the banns are being read on Sunday and I’ve booked the honeymoon …