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Bridgwater takes over running a range of services in devolution deal

STREET cleaning, road sweeping, parks, open spaces and fly-tipping in Bridgwater will be the responsibility of the town council in future.

A landmark deal has seen Somerset Council transfer assets and services to Bridgwater Town Council to protect services amid a financial emergency in the county.

Also transferring as part of the historic deal are responsibilities for footpath repairs, Market Rights, bedding plant provision and carnival clean-ups.

Somerset Council declared a financial emergency in November 2023 as it faced a £100 million budget shortfall.

Leader of the authority, Cllr Bill Revans, wrote to all 279 Somerset parishes, highlighting ‘at risk’ functions that could potentially be devolved to those city, towns, and parishes willing to take them on.

The council said conversations are ongoing with many, while as well as the new services being taken on by BTC, Yeovil Town Council has also assumed responsibility for a number of services, though not signed a full devolution deal, like Bridgwater.

Cllr Theo Butt Philip, lead member for transformation and human resources at Somerset Council, said: “Transferring assets and services to the most local level has the potential to deliver huge benefits.

“Devolution doesn’t just protect some of the services our residents value the most, it also means that these services will be delivered by an organisation which is much closer to the community which uses them.

“Our city, town and parish councils are better placed to understand and respond to the needs of their local communities.

“We also know that devolution will strengthen the role of our parish councils, allowing them to play a greater role in leading, shaping deciding the future of their local areas.”

David Mears, CEO and Town Clerk of Bridgwater Town Council, went on: “As we transition these vital services from Somerset Council to Bridgwater Town Council, we are committed to maintaining and improving high standards.

“Our focus remains on the well-being of our community, ensuring parks and open spaces thrive under local management.”

Scott Mason, the newly-appointed director of amenities at the town council, added: “Taking charge of street cleansing and road sweeping is a significant responsibility.

“We are dedicated to making Bridgwater a clean, safe, and attractive town for residents and visitors alike.”

Leader of Bridgwater Town Council, Cllr Brian Smedley, said: “Bridgwater has grown in terms of housing and employment over the last decade and is continuing to grow.

“We have had the ambition to take over parks and open spaces and to improve street cleaning and that ambition has been realised. “Bridgwater Town Council is now running our own services, and owning our own assets. It naturally follows we are also now accountable for those local services too.”

In a bid to balance the budget for 2024/25, Somerset Council has made a number of savings, as well as increasing council tax.

Up to 1,000 employees are set to be facing redundancy in the coming months as the authority looks to avoid issuing a Section 114 notice, which would effectively declare it bankrupt and see government inspectors appointed to make finanical decisions.

Cllr Revans added: “The Local Government finance model is broken. With no help from government forthcoming, despite all the lobbying and stark warnings, we quickly recognised we needed to seek local solutions, here in Somerset.

“Working with our city, town and parish councils, and other partners in the public, private and voluntary sectors, we have been finding innovative ways to protect the services our residents value during these financially challenging times.

“The successful partnership work with Bridgwater Town Council serves to demonstrate this.

“Conversations on how we can best support our communities will continue in Bridgwater, and with our many other partners and parishes, across the county.”

Parishes wishing to explore devolution deals with Somerset Council should email devolution@somerset.gov.uk.

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