For quite some time now I have been writing this column to give an insight into the work of your District Council.
For many, the Council is there to get the everyday things in life done. That may mean collecting recycling, running various local markets, to keeping our streets and country lanes clean, to managing some play areas. The District Council also carries out important statutory functions; planning and licencing of events, running elections, we even administer some cemeteries. From cradle to grave, your Council touches lives.
On Monday, the District Council held its Annual General Meeting. It was the last AGM ever at Mendip. We know that on 1st April 2023, Mendip will cease to exist, and the new Somerset Council will take over responsibilities for all council services. It’s the end of an era, a sobering thought, and the perfect opportunity to reflect on past achievements and the journey ahead.
Ensuring this new Council is safe and legal, with no interruption to services, will be a challenge in the required, very tight, timescale. Even the simplest services differ between the councils. It’s complex, and there’s a lot to do. This is not helped by the government’s stance that it’s making no monies available to make it happen.
At Mendip we will continue to deliver for our residents during the next ten months – the people are our priority. And we will find the resources to staff all the transition work too. Because at Mendip, we get things done. We’ve a proven track-record.
Our two towns contain many communities –there are ones determined by geography e.g.
the Morlands estate, the “Saints”roads; others by age –teenagers, senior citizens; others by
interests –the arts, sport, physical activities; others by income –the comfortably-off, those
who struggle to get by; and many more. These communities interlock so that we all belong
to more than one. The Town Council’s role is to try to serve all of them as well as possible
while recognising that some may need more support than others, and that what is
important to one person or community may not be at all important to another. Inevitably
this will mean that not everyone will agree with everything on which the Town Council
spends money or resources. Click here for manifesto
Community involvement or engagement is increasingly cited as a means to delivering a project. And we were reminded of that just last week, at the grand opening of a multi-user path near Wells.
Certainly dozens of volunteers helped with clearing the land to enable preparation work, leading to the construction of the path. Many of those same volunteers lobbied too. They always held the dream of a local pathways network, despite numerous knock-backs for more than 20 years.
The Dulcote path, or to give it its correct description, the multi-user path known as ‘The Strawberry Line’, is the section from the existing path from outside Morrisons in Wells to Dulcote village, and then on to Charlie Bigham’s kitchen in the quarry.
I was delighted to attend the Glastonbury Town Deal Open Day last week. Held in the ever-elegant town hall, the event showcased the 12 local projects set to benefit from £23.6 million in Government funding.
The enthusiasm and ambition of the individuals involved was palpable. Everyone was clearly convinced this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Two years after the first pandemic lockdown, economic growth has never been more important - and they are going to make the most of it!
This is Glastonbury, so you’d expect an innovative, forward-looking approach to regeneration, with both eyes on the environment and how we live, work and travel. It was fascinating to see the projects set out together, and how they all interlinked.
The majority are in the industrial Beckery area, first transformed by the monks of Glastonbury Abbey who made such a difference to the Somerset Moors with their drainage schemes and use of the Mill Stream.
The digital divide became even more apparent during the pandemic. And as you’d expect, our local communities and individuals responded.
A good example of this is the Donate IT scheme to recycle laptops and reissue them free to those who needed digital access.
The initiative was set up by Axbridge Town Council and local councillor Ben Ferguson. It includes a dedicated recycling point and has support from local firm Blackmore Ricotech, who provide free professional data wiping.
Residents can with confidence hand-in their old and unused IT equipment knowing it will be used for a good cause - and have the extra, added bonus of knowing they are helping our environment!
Stories about the eye-watering amounts of fraud involved in the issuing of public money during the Covid crisis, continue to dominate news headlines. The weekend’s papers were once again full of examples. Much is rightly being made about the scale of fraud that’s been identified during these unprecedented times.
Treasury Minister, Lord Agnew, who had served in post since February 2020, drove home the point in the House of Commons - before promptly resigning. Little wonder he felt compelled to stand down. The sums of money involved here are staggering.
More than £47 billion was given to small businesses under the government's largest coronavirus scheme - the bounce back loan scheme (BBLS) – aimed at helping those companies most at risk during the pandemic. The National Audit Office has since estimated that as much as £5 billion of this support money could have been claimed fraudulently … and it’s been written-off.
I am acutely aware of the cost-of-living concerns residents, communities and businesses in Mendip are feeling at the moment.
We’ve all seen a rise in our energy prices, food and petrol. National insurance is set to increase, mortgage rates are up. Inflation is the highest it’s been for 30 years. And Council Tax bills will land on doormats next month.
Despite the picture-postcard portrayal of Mendip as a go-to destination, I know there are pockets of real, rural deprivation in our district. The demand on food banks in our area demonstrates this.
Other help is also out there, and I sincerely hope that most people know they can turn to their District Council - and trusted partners, such as Citizens Advice Mendip - in times of financial trouble.