Sunday, December 20, 2009

Community Information Centre and Police Post opens in South Petherton

In December 2009 we opened the South Petherton Community Information Centre and Police Post.

Some years ago we arranged for a small room at the back of the David Hall (our spectacular performing arts venue) to be used as a Police Post. Volunteers and Somerset and Avon Police provided a valuable service to the local community dealing with issues, complaints and crime-reduction.

We built on that success with the Local Action Group which you can read about elsewhere in the blog.

Now the village has combined the 2, added a fully staffed information centre, and created a vital additional resource for South Petherton. Anyone who wants to know anything about pretty much anything, needs to read planning applications, meet their local Councillors, have private conversations with the regularly attending police and PCSOs and get involved with the multitude of activities in the village can drop in 6 days a week.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Climate Change Action Day

I am delighted to share with thousand of others around the worl din blogging for climate change.

In South Somerset we are working to a corporate plan of zero carbon by 2020 - we may fail, but we are going to have a damn good try!

ZeroSom is our initiative, backed up by several active Transition Groups, a strong clinate change agenda driven by the Community, and a lot of individuals who are passionate.

Keith Wheaton Green
Joe Burlington
Cara Naden
Rob and Becky Cotterill
Vega Sturgess
Andrew Turpin
Kate Vanonvitch
Tim Rook

and so many others.

We are showing Age of Stupid in South Petherton  next Thursday, and have a 350 event planned with our MEP Graham Watson on the 24th.

visit breathe at

visit our South Somerset District Council's climate change agenda at

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Monday, February 23, 2009

South West Charter for Member Development

South West Charter for Member Development
Hilton Hotel, Swindon
February 27th 2009

The Charter for Member Development requires councils to ensure that their elected representatives are able to manage large budgets, take difficult decisions for their communities with the necessary knowledge, balance conflicting demands, be aware of political differences and to show an ability to accommodate each other for the benefit of local communities. It is about developing and training councillors to a ‘benchmark level’.

Development means a mix of training, on the job experience and learning new ways of working, and this is what our councillors receive at South Somerset. What is most important is that we have been out delivering all the good things that we have learnt, and it is those things that make the difference to local people’s lives.

The message for me is that we were the first of many in the South West because of our long history of commitment to the member development philosophy.

Phil Dolan, Chief Executive of South Somerset District Council said "I am obviously delighted for staff and councillors that we are the first in the South West to gain this tremendous accolade but let’s not forget the reality of what this means; our councillors get some of the best training and development opportunities in local government for the sole purpose of better serving our residents. That’s the real good news”.

At South Somerset the induction process for new members starts even before the election with a Becoming a Councillor booklet available on line and sent to all candidates. Throughout the year events for young people and community visits by the Democratic Services team offer every elector the chance to appreciate the value of becoming a Councillor. Whether people start as a Parish Councillor or Town Councillor and then stand for election at District or County Council the underlying issues are the same, a need for true altruistic detachment, a recognition that there will be a lot of hard work, late evenings and short weekends and acceptance that being in the public eye means less privacy and often some interruption of 'normal' life.

After the election a comprehensive series of information and education training sessions on all areas of councillor business is organised. These cover everything from how to participate positively in meetings, make presentations, as well as the more typical financial regulation and planning training. Every new Councillor turned up after the 2007 elections, and some of those re-elected joined in as well for a refresher. One of the most interesting parts of the training is a bus tour of the District - I for one was quite daunted by the area covered by South Somerset and the totally different environments and communities we support.

South Somerset District Council’s commitment to joint development with partner organisations is actively demonstrated through seminars and training sessions – out of 49 development opportunities in a five-month period, 31 were provided externally. Our internal courses are open to other Councils when we can, and we look for ways to minimise cost while maximising the quality of training and support we give each Councillor.

Lyn Lockyer, Member Development Officer at South Somerset District Council says, “An important aspect of our councillor training is that people with little or no experience of local government are able to become a fully functioning councillor who is confident of their community role.

“Our 60 councillors go out into the community, getting involved in things, taking a leadership role. Last year we also held a Beacon event and many members came from far and wide to learn from their example. I am so pleased that their efforts to learn and develop have been recognised.”

Lyn must be congratulated for being one of the main reasons South Somerset's scheme has been so effective. Her boundless enthusiasm and commitment is known and admired by everyone.

Member Development is a perfect partner for officer development. Most of our middle managers have attended management diploma courses specifically designed for South Somerset and a number are continuing on to even higher qualification levels. Matching the officer and member development has lead to even more informed debate from all quarters with a wide range of members from all parties being involved in detailed budget examination through the review and scrutiny process.

Leadership is a vital part of Council group work. The leaders of both the party in control and the main opposition have attended the Leadership Academy and several councillors have achieved BTEC qualifications - some of them are here today to receive them.

One final aspect to discuss is mentoring. New councillors, whether young or old, and existing councillors taking on new responsibilities often welcome support from someone with specific expertise. Whether this is a local arrangement or through the IDeA peer mentor scheme there are great benefits to be had for both the Councillor and mentor.

I am delighted to be able to receive the Member Charter on behalf of South Somerset, but saddened by the reason our Leader and others cannot attend. Today is the funeral of Alan Cornelius who stood down in 2007 after 58 years of being a Councillor. Alderman Cornelius was the epitome of Councillors - unstoppable when working on behalf of a constituent, impartial and objective when chairing the Regulation Committee and unfailingly polite and supportive of officers. We will all miss him enormously and I would like to dedicate our award to Alan's memory as an example to us all.

Paull Robathan

Councillor Paull Robathan is ward member for South Petherton on South Somerset District Council. A former Leader of the Council Paull was Portfolio Holder for Finance and Member Development when South Somerset were assessed for the Charter. He is Chairman of the Local Strategic Partnership, Board member of Somerset Waste Partnership, a Governor of Taunton and Somerset NHS Foundation Trust and a member of the Raglan Housing Regional Committee.

A Local perspective on the art of integrating sustainability

- Embedding Sustainable Development into the new
government processes & strategy for the South West region

Sustainability South West Conference, Weston Super Mare, March 2nd 2009

Sustainability South West have been a major contributor to the South Somerset Sustainable Community Strategy, their presentations to working groups and inciteful commentary on our working papers have lifted the work up to a higher level. I am delighted to have the opportunity to talk briefly about the local issues around integrating sustainability.

The trick is in the title - there is an art in involving and integrating the very local communities we find everywhere we look in the world. There may be scientific techniques and political processes, but the art is in the way the tools and techniques are deployed and the attitudes and aspirations of the people involved.

South Somerset Together is the local strategic partnership for the District of South Somerset - not a cute name, but the "together" says it all, sustainable worthwhile community development will only succeed if most, and preferably all, public, private and voluntary organisations deliver time, money and emotional commitment.

The road to commitment is long, and needs to be straight. One of the most difficult things for a body such as a District Council to do is to engender trust in long term consistency. This is due in part to the 4 year political cycle, and the potential for 180 degree shifts in policy and practice, but also due to the inherent distrust many residents have in local and central government. "They" are not expected to be doing things for the benefit of the community without a personal or political agenda that has self-serving components that may overwhelm the apparent social utility offered as the public face of any policy.

To counter the knee-jerk reaction to a policy announcement there needs to be a frame of reference within which to set the policy and evidence of follow-through - not once - not twice - but every time, and over a long period. The Gary Player adage of the more I practice the luckier I get holds equally true in this circumstance.

South Somerset has built the frame of reference of sustainability over many years. Even so we cannot rest on our laurels, and we have not done enough. Despite individuals' best efforts we are only scratching the surface of globally vital issues. We cannot succeed without widening the accord from District Council level - upwards to government and to transnational initiatives (including the South West Climate Change Action Plan 2008 - 2010 that has many specific short term actions to create a long term directional shift), but critically downwards to each and every person in our community and in every other community across the world. As a member of the South West Cohesion Steering Group I can confirm that excellent work is clearly being done at transnational level to address that strata of issues, but we need to work right down at the grass roots as well.

In doing so we need to see things from others' view point. In South Somerset we have a decade and more of tradition in enabling others to do, rather than doing to them.

The Somerset Trust for Sustainable Development was initially funded with a grant from South Somerset District Council and has grown itself into an internationally respected and self-sustaining leader in sustainable development.

Great Bow Yard, LangportImage by yellow book ltd via Flickr

The trustees of Ecos Trust (as it is now called) over the period since 2000 give a clear indication of how consistency plays a part, but also how having world class experts locally makes for a virtuous circle - Charles Couzens, David Gordon, Simon Fairlie, Julia Hailes and many others. My predecessor as District Councillor in my ward, Lucy Durnan, continues to be a resolute campaigner and advocate of sustainability. Its that consistency and commitment that provides the underpinning to a deliverable integrated sustainable strategy, but its only the framework. There needs to be a rich fabric woven from many many people's own efforts. Baroness Miller, a former leader of the Council continues to spearhead environmental issues nationally.

Within the Council we have been very fortunate to have expertise from Keith Wheaton Green. In 2005 the South Somerset HydroPower Group were recognised by the international Ashden Awards for their development of a collaborative micro hydro development down the rivers of Somerset and into Dorset - Keith deployed a few hundred pounds of SSDC money, but a huge amount of faith, commitment and effort. The Ashden Awards showcase UK and International projects - in 2005 SOLEC from India won an award for their very low cost small photovoltaic systems that have brought light to hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses in Kanatarka, perhaps suggesting that our UK approach of high cost all embracing systems are self defeating compared with the affordable locally made units in India.

2005 was also the year that the District Council won the first of 3 successive Beacon Awards for community engagement "Getting Closer to Communities". It was when the tag line 'Enable Partner Deliver' was coined that has become the mantra for all of the corporate activity of South Somerset District. It is significant that the Beacon coordinator was Saveria Moss, who is now the Local Strategic Partnership coordinator and the senior manager from the District Council was Vega Sturgess, now corporate Director for Environment and lead officer for the new SSDC Corporate Plan. Consistency of intention and delivery.

The very close relationship between the Local Strategic Partnership and the District Council is cemented by Helen Rutter who is employed by the District Council as Community Development Manager and also dedicates about 1/3 of her time to overseeing the Local Strategic Partnership. From top to bottom, and throughout our many partners' organisations there is a commitment and a continuing follow through of intense involvement.

At the County Council through local community officer Vicky Breeze (who we first met when she championed the Biodiversity Action Plan) and on up to Lord Cameron, well known to environmentalists, and Chairman of the Somerset Strategic Partnership there is a commonality of purpose and a consistency of commitment.

Recent highlights are the completion of ratification of our Sustainable Community Strategy to 2026. The Local Strategic Partnership is being bold in its targets (even Charles Couzens thought so...) strongly supported by Joe Burlington of South Somerset Climate Change Action Group who when he joined us was, I suspect, a bit suspicious of being on the inside and losing his objectivity but I hope he does not feel that now!

Our strategy has been developed over 2 years. Most of that time was spent working up from the many Parish and Community Plans that have been painstakingly created by many of our 121 parishes and towns. There is no substitute for local involvement, but I am convinced the quality and level of engagement owes a lot to our continuing support for local community engagement, so that people really believe us when we say we are listening!

The Local Strategic Partnership has been running for about 8 years. It started by doing necessary projects and sharing resources and ideas with partners. We have evolved into a very tight knit group of 30+ senior people from public sector, community groups and the businesses in South Somerset - and the reason we all keep turning up is its worth our while. Each organisation puts in senior time, delivers support, effort in kind and money. The result is a self perpetuating group who give what they can and get what they need.

Examples of projects completed and work programmes under way can be found on our website

We are now entering a very exciting phase. The District and County Councils have consistent, interlocking Community Strategies, our District Council Corporate Plan is driven by the needs of the Community as expressed in the Sustainable Community Strategy and there are a number of projects under way with a very sustainability feel about them. Partners use the Sustainable Community Strategy as an evidence base for their internal plan developments.

The local business association is undertaking a green business initiative educating and mentoring 80 South Somerset businesses in Waste Management and Minimisation, Energy Efficiency, Water efficiency in manufacturing processes and Green management systems and environmental policies. The aim is for the organisations to take specific measurable steps to reduce their carbon footprint and improve environmental conditions as a direct result.

The Local Strategic Partnership will run a major local event at the Yeovil Innovation Centre in the summer. This event will publicly launch the South Somerset Sustainable Community Strategy by raising awareness of the sustainability agenda with everyone in the district. It will provide information and practical expert advice on what can be done individually and collectively about the “big” issues including Climate Change mitigation and adaptation through reducing CO² emissions, generating heat and power from renewable sources, further reducing waste to landfill, sourcing food and products locally, etc. The event will be geared to the general public, with presentations, information and activities suitable for all including children, families, businesses, etc. In another example of long term joined up thinking our unique Somerset Waste Partnership now delivers a higher percentage of waste for recycling than anywhere in the country - after a 10 year continuing programme of development.

One of the major avenues for action on sustainability is the Transition Town movement. Both Somerset County and South Somerset District have made commitments to Transition and in South Somerset specifically our Corporate Plan requires officers to provide active and substantive support to the growing number of local Transition initiatives. The Transition Town movement exemplifies the local involvement but international significance of sustainability. Ever since Rob Hopkins and his students in Kinsale kick started local social consciences a wave of mainly young people has risen up (at least in South Somerset) who are passionate about the environment and want a better world to live in for them and their children.

In 1992 I was very fortunate to be involved in a Club of Rome inspired program that culminated in a 'Declaration of Barcelona', whose key message was "there are underlying and growing fears about what may result from changes underway in European society. Many individuals are afraid of losing their jobs, fearful of losing their freedom because of the loss of confidence in current political institutions and frightened of losing their identity" - that message was an echo of Kurt Waldheim's 1975 address 'The international system of economic trade relations which was devised 30 years ago is now manifestly inadequate for the needs of the world community as a whole. The charge against that order is that in the past it worked well for the affluent and against the poor. It cannot now even be said it works well for the affluent."

Who would disagree in 2009 that the thoughts of 34 years ago and 17 years ago are any less true today? At every local point in the world there needs to be a commonality of purpose to transition to a new model, one of lower consumption, higher social conscience, non-destructive food production and alternative sustainable fuel supplies. We need to embed sustainability into everything we do, and government both local and national have a fundamental role to play.

What are my does and don'ts?

Do involve every willing person at every level, but don't force them into a one size fits all model. Let people contribute in their own way.

Do arrange meetings and events at different times of the day or evening and in different locations and settings.

Don't assume anyone understands acronyms, national policy or even why local decisions have been made

Don't judge or criticise individual comments - give them all due weight in collective research

Don't give up

But above all take advantage of opportunities

- like the one the recession is giving us. If Airlines are willingly cutting 10% or more of their flights from the schedule lets fight to keep them cut.

- if insulating homes can create work for local installers lets reduce the % heat lost from our homes to such an extent that Nuclear Power is not necessary

...and I am sure we could all add our own. Lets make sure we do.

Paull Robathan

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]