Now is Not The Time to Reorganise Somerset’s Councils.

January 8th, 2020

Followers of my thoughts will know that I have long been a fan of the concept of unitary authorities. They offer a simplified means of access to services for residents; no more trying to figure out which council does what – a single point of contact.  A unitary authority will have lower running costs as it requires just one Chief Executive, one Chief Planning Officer etc so some staffing costs can be saved.  But before we assess the overall benefits of turning Somerset into a single unitary authority in 2020, we need to look at the background to today’s call from the County Council.

Make no mistake, today’s plea for a Somerset-wide single council by David Fothergill, leader of Somerset County Council, is one borne solely out of desperation. The County Council remains in an extremely shaky financial condition having almost gone bust in 2018.  An unprecedented, mid-year emergency budget together with a series of one-off central government hand-outs prevented the county council from going under, Northamptonshire-style, but the fundamentals remain extremely weak.  Mr Fothergill knows that he has maybe a couple of years before the wolf returns to his door and his plan is to gobble up the district’s resources to prop up his struggling council.  I have every sympathy with the need to properly fund adult social care and children’s services but demolishing the important services provided by our district councils is not the way to do it. Take Somerset West & Taunton Council, whose resources Mr Fothergill seeks to subsume. Finally, after 10 years of drift and failure, we are putting the council back on its feet.  The council has a clear plan to regenerate Taunton, through the redevelopment of Coal Orchard, Firepool and other sites across the town.  We are building hundreds of new council houses, reforming the failed planning system that has delivered thousands of new homes with no supporting infrastructure.  We are supporting Taunton’s Park & Rides following the county’s inability to keep them running.  All this will be lost as the county council’s functions consume all of the district’s resources.

So, while I remain in favour of the concept of unitary authorities, the idea that we should be forced into one in order to bail out the mismanaged County Council is laughable.  Let’s not forget that while some of the county council’s misfortune lies with central government cuts to the county council’s budget, much of the blame for its current state can be laid firmly at the feet of Mr Fothergill’s County Conservatives.  They compounded the government cuts to its grant by freezing council tax for SIX YEARS.  Had they raised council tax by just 2% a year during that period, the County Council would by £125m better off and not in its current state.  Let’s have a look at the idea of a unitary authority once the county council’s finances are sustainable on a long-term basis.

One final thought.  Mr Fothergill claims that his plan would save £47m a year.  Where does he get this figure from?  From a report produced by the same company that advised on the disastrous transformation programme that merged Taunton Deane Borough Council and West Somerset District Council.  I think we can safely ignore that figure.

40Cdo will remain at Norton Manor Camp

March 1st, 2019

As I tried to drift off to sleep after midnight yesterday, my wandering mind was snapped to by my buzzing phone. Unable to resist the urge, I pulled open one eyelid to see the news that Norton Manor camp was not, after all, to close.  We all remember the dismay when, in November 2016, news came through that 40Cdo were to move, in 2028, from Norton Manor Camp, which was them to be sold off, like so much employment land in Taunton, for housing. The people of Taunton have taken the  Royal Marines of 40Cdo to their hearts but as well as the emotional wrench of losing them to Plymouth came the economic damage of losing such a large, local employer. I went down to Norton Manor that night to give an interview to ITV News, calling for the decision to be reversed. As I was doing this, regrettably our MP, Rebecca Pow was describing the closure as “a sensible plan”. Always the government ultra-loyalist, her support for this damaging plan should not have come as a surprise but I had clung on to the forlorn hope that she might stick up for us. Having called for the closure plan to be scrapped, I was naturally pleased to see Liberal Democrat prospective MP, Gideon Amos, lead a campaign to keep 40Cdo at Norton Manor.  That the Royal Marines will now remain at Norton Manor is in no small part due to the force of his campaign. It would be churlish not to acknowledge that Rebecca Pow belatedly swung behind his campaign, rejecting her earlier acquiescence in her Government’s closure plan. She came round in the end and for that we should thank her. To all at 40Cdo, it’s fabulous that you’ll remain a big part of our community.

Cllr Mike Rigby; Why I have Decided to Join the Liberal Democrats

January 9th, 2019


“I’ve been the County Councillor for the Lydeard Division for almost six years.

“I have taken satisfaction from providing a strong voice for the people in my area at a time of unprecedented pressure on local government in the form of slashed central government funding.

“I was elected as an Independent and have enjoyed the freedom that independence has provided, choosing which battles to fight.

“However, I have reached the position where some of the things I want to achieve for our community can best be delivered as a member of a major political group.

“Some time ago, the Liberal Democrats generously invited me into the County Council Shadow Cabinet.

“I have appreciated the deeper insight this position has afforded me and enjoyed working within the team.

“For some time, I have found myself travelling on parallel lines to the Liberal Democrats with little difference between our beliefs and policy direction so, in the end, it has not been a difficult decision to join the Lib Dems.

“We share views on all of the big local issues, including inadequate funding of local government and the dangers of outsourcing.

“We also agree on national policy issues including the economy, health and the biggest issue of the lot; Brexit, which I consider to be an historic mistake, riddled with illegality and which I feel an obligation to continue to oppose.

“I will continue to represent the people of the Lydeard Division with the same independent mindedness and strong voice, but as a member of the Lib Dem group, with whom I look forward to playing a full part in transforming the fortunes of our community, town and county.”

Jane Lock, Leader of the Lib Dems at Somerset County Council said:

“The Liberal Democrat Group welcomes Mike Rigby, our newest member. Mike strengthens our position further on the County Council as we continue to oppose damaging cuts to the services for Somerset’s residents. We share values and principles with Mike, a councillor who will continue to work hard for his Lydeard Division residents and all of Somerset.

Councillor Neil Bloomfield joined us from the Conservatives less than six months ago, citing his disappointment in the direction of travel and lack of compassion of the Tory party.”

Gideon Amos, Lib Dem Parliamentary Candidate for Taunton Deane said:

“Sensible people across the spectrum now recognise the Lib Dems are offering the positive and constructive alternative the country needs. Cllr Mike Rigby will hugely strengthen our Taunton Deane Lib Dem team and I’m delighted to welcome him on board.”


The Outsource of Learning Disabilities

March 16th, 2017

Yesterday the Cabinet were forced, by the Council’s Scrutiny Committee, to reconsider their outsourcing of Learning Disabilities.  Perhaps predictably, for a Council so ideologically-wedded to privatising everything, they ignored the request to defer the contract start.  The Chair of the meeting, Council Leader John Osman, arbitrarily chose to limit questions from members to just 1 minute each, which meant that I was unable to say much of what I have planned to say in support of the service and the people who provide and use it, some of whom are my constituents.  He compounded his unreasonable behaviour by repeatedly interrupting me; he doesn’t like challenge, John.  Had Councillor Osman acted reasonably, this is what I would have said: –

Questions for Cabinet on Learning Disabilities – 15th March 2017

We’ve heard today, comparisons made between the outsourcing of Learning Disabilities and the failed SouthWestOne contract.  I too am struck by the similarities, which include: –

  1. You have begun with your ideologically-driven, preferred option, set as the ‘right answer’ from the outset and have bent the business case, such as it is, into a shape that supports that;
  2. The excessive use of confidentiality. For example, I have repeatedly asked to see a copy of the signed contract and have been prevented from doing so;
  3. The application of ‘gloss’ to all news, leading to poor risk identification and suppression of potential issues and problems;
  4. Running the procurement on aspirational aims and a lack of hard-nosed, in-house contract-letting skills;
  5. A lack of effort, through a long procurement process, to improve the in-house service;
  6. A lack of baselines and KPIs;
  7. Poor risk-sharing;

So many similarities, so little learnt.  Why should we expect a different outcome, when you follow the same path?

And now, at the eleventh hour, we can add to these concerns the following:-

  1. Staff pay, conditions and terms are to be attacked. We now know that Cabinet & Senior Officers knew that this would happen as far back as last summer but kept that knowledge secret from service users and staff. So much for Cabinet Member William Wallace’s claims of transparency;
  2. We now hear there exists a secret compensation fund. How has this been set up? How much does it contain? How will it operate? How has it been established without the apparent knowledge of the County Treasurer?
  3. How is three years not enough time to improve the in-house service and address the supposed overspend?

It’s no use putting forward photographs of dilapidated facilities as evidence that the service needs to improve.  The Conservatives have been in charge of the service for 8 years.  You are responsible for the mess.  Own it.

And finally, John (Osman), don’t sit there and tell us that you make these decisions with a heavy heart.  Every single Conservative county councillor went out in 2015 and actively campaigned for the election of Conservative MPs, whose express policy was the continued hammering of the Council’s budget.  The Council’s financial position is not a surprise to you.  It is what you campaigned for.

Massive Flytipping Problem Continues in Taunton Deane.

March 10th, 2017

Crawlic Lane Fly-tippingFollowers of my blog will recognise flytipping as an issue that I’ve raised and returned to from time to time.  In 2010/11 there were 407 incidents of flytipping across the Taunton Deane Borough costing council taxpayers a total of £11,705 to clear up.  Pretty bad, yes?  Well, it got a lot worse.  After Conservative-controlled Taunton Deane and Somerset County councils introduced fees to deposit certain types of waste at Household Waste Recycling Centres, and limited the opening hours at many of the sites, flytipping incidents, entirely predictably, went through the roof with 681 incidents the following year, with clear-up costs doubling to £22924.  Flytipping in Taunton Deane peaked in 2014/15 with 864 incidents costing a whopping £45,270 in clean-up. Incidents fell back a little in 2015/16 (the last full year for which figures are available) but there were still 785 flytips costing £43,525 to clean up, 4 times the cost before the tip closures and fees were implemented.  Using 2010/11 as a baseline, Taunton Deane has spent over £100,000 cleaning up the additional flytipping. It was inevitable that the tip closures and fees would lead to more flytipping.  Even the Government Minister in charge said so at the time.  Eric Pickles, no lover of Council spending, said in April 2011, “Charging for using recycling centres and the local dump will create perverse incentives for fly-tipping, harming the local environment and diverting tax-payers’ money into clearing up.

I’m pleased that Somerset Waste Partnership responded positively to  my campaign and re-opened some of the principal recycling centres on a 7-day/week basis but the time has come to re-open all the sites and abandon the fees.

Time to Stop the Politically-Driven Outsourcing of Somerset Learning Disability Service

February 8th, 2017

County Council staff numbers have been slashed over the last 7 years, leaving the council’s learning disability support service as one of the largest single functions left in the council’s direct control.  As such, it has been singled out for outsourcing by the Conservative administration that runs the county council.  Initial consultation with service users and their families indicated that they wished to see the service remain part of the county council.  This wasn’t the answer that Somerset Conservatives wanted to hear so they asked it again, only this time employing ‘facilitators’ to help deliver the correct answer, which they duly did. Now, the preferred option was to outsource the service to a cuddly-sounding ‘Social Enterprise Vehicle.’

The County Council then set about finding bidders interested in running this enterprise.  The exercise yielded only one bidder.  In my view that’s all the indication you need that there is effectively no market in this type of service.  Would you employ a tradesman on your home having received only one price?  But, being ideologically wedded to outsourcing everything, the county council pressed on, agreeing terms with the single bidder, and making extravagant promises to the staff that their terms and conditions would be protected in the new company, which is due to take over in April 2017.

Early on, concerns started to emerge that the social enterprise (Dimensions UK Ltd) might not be as cuddly as had been billed.  It was discovered that any profit generated by the enterprise would not be saved for use in Somerset but would be distributed throughout the new company’s other operations in the UK.  Now, we discover that those promises to protect the staff might be worthless.  Dimensions  UK Ltd has issued a letter to Somerset County Council indicating that it intends to make a large number of the staff redundant and degrade everyone else’s terms and conditions, including pay.  If the county council agrees to these measures, some staff will end up earning barely more than the minimum wage and less than someone stacking tins of beans in Lidl.  A highly-motivated and well-trained workforce has been misled throughout an exercise to outsource to a private contractor.  Given what we now know, would the service users and their families still back the ‘Social Enterprise Vehicle’?  Somehow, I doubt it.

It’s time for Somerset’s Conservative administration to stop this ideologically-driven outsource and reconsider.  There are elections just three months away and such a decision, affecting vulnerable people as well as so large a part of the council’s workforce ought to be deferred to what could potentially be a new administration.

Yet Another Crash at Lethal Bishops Lydeard Junction

November 2nd, 2016

file-02-11-2016-10-14-35Anyone driving on the A358 past Bishops Lydeard will be familiar with the dangerous junction with Station Road.  There have been numerous accidents at this junction in recent years including the recent death of Sally Eveleigh.  Taylor Wimpey were required to build a roundabout at the junction and while I welcome the fact that work has finally begun, it is years late.  For many years now we have been calling for a reduction in the speed limit on this stretch of road. The County Council knows that it is is dangerous, going so far as to erect a sign warning ‘Collision Site Ahead’ yet astonishingly maintains the national speed limit of 60mph at the junction.  Following the death of Mrs Eveleigh in April, I requested that the County Council reduce the speed limit in anticipation of the construction of the roundabout.  Again, the request was refused.  This morning saw another multi-vehicle collision so again, I ask “Please get on and impose the 30mph limit before there are any more accidents. You made us wait 4 years for the roundabout because you’ve not enough staff left to get the job done.  Now make this road safe.”file-02-11-2016-11-22-08


October 4th, 2016

img_7468Following my Facebook post FAQ, further questions have been raised and I have some answers.

Q. When will the 30mph temporary speed limit be implemented?

A. The current plan is to keep the disruption to a minimum and to delay the imposition of the speed limit for as long as possible, currently til mid-November.  This will be kept under review and, if safety concerns dictate, it will be brought in sooner.

Q. What traffic control will be in place during the works?

A. It had previously been thought that two-way flows on the A358 would be maintained throughout most of the works.  This is not now the case.  From mid-November, the southbound lane of the A358 will disappear, leaving just the northbound lane.  This will be controlled using three-way traffic signals, one for each direction of the A358 and one for Greenway Road.  This does have the potential to cause significant disruption.  I have asked County and the contractor, SWH to consider how this may affect the village and the risk of rat-running using Taunton Road and Minehead Road.  They will be producing a list of recommendations in the coming weeks.

Q. How will the pedestrian crossing on the A358 work?

A. It will be linked to the 3-way signals.  New tarmac paths will link the crossing to the existing footways.  The position of the crossing (between the underpass and the roundabout) will vary during the works.

Q. Can a temporary bus stop be provided to replace the suspended stop on Station Road?

A. I have asked.

Q. What has happened to the No. 23 bus at Greenway?

A. I have asked County to investigate whether alternative arrangements can be put in place in order to retain the service, which appears to have been suspended during the works.

Q. Will the dark spot at the western end of the underpass footway be fixed by new streetlighting?

A. Yes, new carriageway lighting on the Greenway Road arm of the roundabout will fix this.

Q. The current signage suggests that the A358 is closed and that there is a diversion through Bishops Lydeard.  Can this be rectified?

A. I have raised this with County and SWH who will see if this can be made clearer.

This Q&A will be a regular feature on my site throughout the duration of the works.  Please feel free to keep asking questions – – and check back here for progress reports and updates.


Bishops Lydeard & Cothelstone Neighbourhood Plan Passes Referendum Hurdle

May 6th, 2016

Bishops Lydeard & Cothelsone Neighbourhood PlanVoting took place yesterday in a referendum on whether local people approved of the Bishops Lydeard and Cothelstone Neighbourhood Plan.  The votes were counted overnight and the plan was passed with an overwhelming majority of votes cast, as follows: –

Electorate: 2336, votes cast: 733, turnout: 31.38%.

YES votes: 583, 79.54%

NO votes: 132 18%

Void: 18

This makes us the first community in Somerset to pass their neighbourhood plan at referendum, quite an achievement.

The Committee responsible for preparing the plan are very pleased that it has been approved and that it will now proceed to adoption in a month or so.  Once adopted, Taunton Deane Borough Council, the local planning authority will have to make planning decisions in accordance with the neighbourhood plan.  As well as this additional control, the community will also benefit from an increased rate of returned Community Infrastructure Levy funding, with 25% of the levy being passed to the Parish Council rather than 15%, ensuring that as much of the funding generated by new development is spent in the community affected.

As the Chairman of the committee that produced the plan, I’d like to thank the Committee Members Paul Partington, Jane Warmington and Clive Martin and the Chairman of the Parish Council, Henry Davenport for all the work and time that they dedicated to the task. Thanks also to Ann Rhodes and her staff at TDBC for their support, thanks to the people of the two parishes who attended meetings, exhibitions and responded to surveys, which informed the process. But mostly, our gratitude must go to our Parish Clerk, Amy Shepherd, who guided us through the process, kept us on track and provided all the logistical support to get us to this point.

And thanks to everyone that voted.

Why We Should Vote in Favour of The Neighbourhood Plan

May 3rd, 2016

Bishops Lydeard & Cothelsone Neighbourhood PlanThis Thursday, voters in Bishops Lydeard and Cothelstone Parish can have their say on whether the Neighbourhood Plan for the two parishes ought to be approved. Taking advantage of new legislation, volunteers from the community, including parish councillors and local residents have produced the plan over the last few years as a means to take greater control over development. Built on views gathered through, exhibitions, numerous public meetings and a parish-wide survey, the plan contains policies on employment, tourism and housing amongst other things. It is important to note that the plan cannot stop all development. It has to conform with Taunton Deane’s Local Development Framework, which requires Bishops Lydeard to accommodate up to 200 new homes. These new homes will be built regardless of whether the Neighbourhood Plan is approved. However, by having a Neighbourhood Plan, we have the opportunity of controlling where and how they are built and we can influence the type of housing that is built and what else comes with the development, e.g. allotments, open space, woodland. This is what the plan does.

New housing development will require infrastructure to support it whether that’s transportation, health or education. Much of this is now funded through a levy on new development, called CIL. CIL funds are collected by Taunton Deane and partly spent by them on infrastructure anywhere in the Borough. Some of the funds are distributed to Somerset County Council to carry out its functions – highways and education etc. However, 15 % of the total, perhaps £375,000 in the case of the Bishops Lydeard development would be paid to the Parish Council to spend on infrastructure within the two parishes. Where a Neighbourhood Plan is in place, that rises to 25% or somewhere in the region of £625,000*. That equates to around £250,000 more that we get to keep in our community.

So, when you come to decide how to vote in the referendum, please bear that in mind. If the Neighbourhood Plan is rejected, the community will lose control over many areas of planning policy, with Taunton Deane taking it back for themselves, we will lose around £250,000 to spend on local infrastructure and we will still get the same if not more development in the two parishes. So I’m sure you can see how I’ll be voting. Please support the Neighbourhood Plan in the referendum.


*The figures used here are estimates based on typical house size. The actual number of homes has yet to be determined although the LDF sets a ceiling of 200.