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Report from Councillors for Curry Rivel & Langport Division

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richard wilkinsmike stanton

Finance Update

Much work has been going on by officers & members to improve our serious financial situation: "Challenge Groups" have met for each service to examine closely what we're spending on & work out how to reduce expenditure without cutting services – although some service level cuts are inevitable.

Adult Social Services and Children's services are our biggest spenders, unsurprisingly, and are required by law to provide a specified level of service, so much more than half our budget is not within our control to manage. More information on this is expected shortly after this report is published.

Local Community Networks

Responses to the consultation conducted in October are being analysed and will form an important part of the recommendations for the Somerset County Council Executive and Full Council.

Buses

Richard is continuing to work actively to get improvements to the 54 bus route, and other routes throughout the county, following serious reductions in service levels by First Bus and other providers. We have no direct control over these private bus companies, but are keeping up the pressure.

Lorry routes and problems

Langport Hanging Chapel

Richard met its owners, the Landmark Trust, and our relevant council traffic officers to seek ways to prevent another large lorry damaging this listed building. Improved signage will be provided, and ways to change the road layout to dissuade drivers from using this route are being considered. Although the chapel's trustees and some local residents would like this road permanently closed, we do not think this a viable or realistic or safe option.

High Ham Church Corner

After representations from Mike, our Area Traffic Engineer has instructed provision of much clearer and tougher signage to dissuade lorries from using this route, and hence causing serious obstruction.

Waterways pollution

A meeting on 1st November will address county-wide the need to deal with nutrient pollution – phosphates & nitrates – and sewage pollution in our waterways. Planning applications in much of the county are still held up by the embargo on phosphate emission issued by Natural England in 2020.

Taunton to have its own Town Council

Somerset's county town will be represented by a Town Council for the first time in 50 years, from 1 April next year, in conjunction with the new unitary Somerset Council launch. Somerset West and Taunton Council (SWT) and Somerset County Council (SCC) held special full council meetings to approve the creation of Taunton's new town council, marking the culmination of two years of intensive work, research and consultation.

Support to mitigate impact of Cost of Living crisis this winter

SCC's Executive has approved a wide-ranging package of support to help local people deal with the impacts of the Cost of Living crisis this winter, including financial assistance with food and energy bills through the Household Support Fund, a 'Warm Welcome' network of venues where people can find warmth and company, & targeted support for clinically vulnerable people in cold homes.

Residents struggling to pay the bills this winter could be eligible for support through the Household Support Fund. We have been allocated £3.8m to distribute before March 31st 2023 as part of the third round of funding provided through the Government's Household Support Fund. This will provide food vouchers worth £10 a week to children eligible for free school meals during school holidays, & enable people to apply for support with urgent essentials including fuel, food, and white goods.

We have contributed a total of £250k to Somerset Community Foundation's Cost of Living Crisis Appeal fund to support food resilience, energy projects and the 'Warm Welcome' network. District Councils have also contributed £50,000 each to the SCF Cost of Living Crisis Appeal.

Spark Somerset is developing the programme and building a framework, to identify appropriate spaces and co-ordinate the project. Somerset Libraries will be open as usual to offer a warm and welcoming space to all. Once all of the warm spaces have been confirmed, a public map will be made available. They will also support food resilience as part of this work. A map of all foodbanks, pantries, and food cupboards in Somerset is being developed which will be made publicly available.

Other support this winter includes the Centre for Sustainable Energy (CSE) Safe and Warm Somerset helpline, which supports people who are clinically vulnerable and struggling to afford their energy bills and living in a cold home.

A total of £314,000 has been provided from Somerset County Council's Clinically Extremely Vulnerable (CEV) Grant: in addition to their standard offer, CSE will also take on targeted outreach to clinically vulnerable people in cold homes and help arrange the installation of insulation and heating measures to improve the energy efficiency of low income or low EPC-rated homes.

We are using an additional £65,000 from the CEV grant to fund Open Mental Health to provide targeted face-to-face help at home for approximately 500 older adults in need of such support.

To make an application to the Household Support Fund, please visit: bit.ly/SupportFund22. If you need help to apply, please phone Somerset County Council on 0300 123 2224. People who applied to previous rounds of the Household Support Fund are welcome to apply again in this round of funding.

To donate to the Somerset Cost-of-Living Crisis Appeal today visit: www.somersetcf.org.uk or call 01749 344949.

For more information about support available for Somerset residents, please visit: https://www.somerset.gov.uk/social-care-and-health/additional-support-for-somerset-residents/

Orange Button Scheme & Walk for a Life

More than 50 people walked the streets of Taunton to raise awareness of suicide across Somerset. Many walked in memory of loved ones or because of their own experiences. They paused for reflection at Vivary Park's bandstand before laying flowers at a bench donated by Ricky Gervais's programme 'After Life'. Participating were the Foundation Trust, Open Mental Health and Stepladder.

The event also marked the launch of SCC'S 'Orange Button' scheme: a community-based suicide awareness scheme. People who are having thoughts of suicide, or who are worried about a friend or family member, can now "push the button" when they see someone wearing a distinctive orange badge, and ask them for information and support.

The Orange Button is worn by people in Somerset who have undergone quality assured Mental Health or Suicide Prevention training: whilst they are not able to counsel people, they can help people to find relevant services locally. To find out more please visit https://www.healthysomerset.co.uk/support-with-your-mental-health/training/

Somerset social workers shortlisted for top national award

Two Somerset social workers have been shortlisted for a prestigious award for their outstanding leadership and practice. Louise White and Janet Hardy, both Service Managers in SCC's Adult Social Care Department, are finalists in the Team Leader of the Year (Adult Services) category at the annual Social Worker of the Year Awards. They were selected for their leadership skills & how they have nurtured an effective working environment, achieved cultural change, or improved service quality & outcomes.

The winners will be revealed during the Social Work Awards 2022 ceremony, being held at the Royal Lancaster Hotel in London on Friday, November 4. For more information about the awards, visit www.socialworkawards.com

Somerset hosts trailblazing conference to tackle child exploitation

SCC hosted a trailblazing multi-agency conference in Taunton, sharing best practice on combating Child Exploitation between the NHS, police, social workers and representatives from the voluntary sector.

Our specialist social workers opened the conference, sharing their experiences in a multi-agency team to help young people recognise when they are being used or exploited & how to find and use the support that is available to them. They outlined examples of good practice highlighted by Ofsted during its recent inspection, which rated the County's Children's Social Care as providing "good" services for children and families.

Sammy Woodhouse, a survivor of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham spoke movingly about her experiences and how she has been able to help others, & the St Giles Trust charity which helps vulnerable young people who are exploited through gangs, serious violence and offending turn their lives around ran interactive sessions on empowering people to get the help they need.

Somerset's Homelessness Health and Wellbeing work is runner up in National Awards

Work that has improved the health and wellbeing of Somerset's homeless population has been named as a runner up in the finals of the Royal Society for Public Health's (RSPH) prestigious Health & Wellbeing Awards 2022 in the 'Health Equity' category. Somerset was shortlisted for its work protecting the county's homeless population.

The award ceremony took place on 20th October, hosted by RSPH President, Professor Lord Patel of Bradford OBE, and RSPH Vice President broadcaster, Natasha Kaplinsky.

By working together, the County Council, District Councils, NHS, Second Step, voluntary, community, and social enterprise accommodation and support providers, the police, probation service and Somerset Open Mental Health, have been able to prevent covid deaths among the county's homeless population, deliver lifesaving medications, and provide tests and treatments for blood borne diseases.

We have been working much more closely on this issue since 2019 & together have set up the Somerset Homelessness Reduction Board & the NHS-led Homeless & Rough Sleeper Nursing service. These organisations worked to support the immediate & longer-term housing needs of Somerset's homeless population, & their health and wellbeing needs, helping people with mental health problems, substance dependence & physical health needs such as the need for testing and life-saving medicines.

Learn a language for free with Somerset Libraries

Somerset Libraries have launched a new Translation Service, giving free access to an online language learning service. It's available to all library members, & will work in a similar way to other online resources, giving Somerset library members (including those with full or digital memberships) access to the free service. which can be found at: www.somersetlibraries.co.uk/languagelearning

The service includes 120 languages so guests from many other countries will also have free access. It also enables anyone in Somerset to learn languages such as Ukrainian and Russian which could be especially useful for sponsors and people supporting displaced people in the county.

The Library Service is working with colleagues in the Resettlement Team, so that the training regarding this service will also include information about the various Welcome Hubs and other support services aimed at guests from other countries. You can get a membership by calling into any Somerset library or online at: https://www.somerset.gov.uk/libraries-leisure-and-communities/libraries/libraries-services/library-membership/

Hundreds sign up to help shape council services

More than 300 people have signed up to our new Customer Panel to help shape the future of council services in Somerset. From April 2023, Somerset's five councils will be replaced by the new unitary Somerset Council which will deliver all council services, from waste collection & adult social care to housing, benefits & parks. You can get involved in several different ways: find out more via our website (or register by calling 0300 123 2224.

Have your say on Somerset's SEND strategy

Members of the public in Somerset are invited to have their say on a new draft strategy for children and young people with Special Educational Needs and/or Disabilities (SEND). The Somerset SEND Partnership, which includes SCC, NHS Somerset, Somerset Parent Carer Forum and local education providers, has launched a consultation for the public to comment on their updated SEND Strategy.

The strategy was shaped by extensive engagement with children, young people and families and sets out how services will be delivered and led over the next three years (2023-26). It has four key themes:

  • Working together
  • Getting help as early as possible
  • Access to the right support and provision
  • Preparing for the future

The consultation will close on Friday 23 December. To read the strategy and provide feedback visit: https://somerset.inconsult.uk/SENDstrategy/consultationHome

Apologies: Mike's apologies for missing so many meetings this month – now recovering from post-Covid bronchitis.

Mike Stanton & Richard Wilkins, Councillors for Curry Rivel & Langport Division

1st November 2022

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