With fewer than 100 days to go until the launch of the new unitary Somerset Council on 1 April 2023, work is underway to understand where offices and customer service delivery points might be situated.
Somerset Council is committed to putting the customer at the heart of its services and will have customer hubs all over the county, including face to face access points. At the same time, many services will be available online offering 24/7 access.
A review of the property estate is underway to ensure that customer service delivery points and accommodation for staff and services are in the right place. This review will seek to ensure best value for taxpayers and support Somerset’s pledge to be carbon neutral by 2030.
The possible disposal of some buildings by sale or lease is being considered as part of the process. There are a number of activities and reviews to be completed before any decisions can be made, and no decisions are expected until Spring/Summer 2023.
Phase one of the property review will focus on three projects:
- A review of properties in the West Somerset area
- A feasibility study to inform a potential disposal of Petters House in Yeovil
- A strategy for C Block at County Hall in Taunton
The review in West Somerset will look at a specific group of nine operational sites currently occupied by either Somerset County Council or Somerset West and Taunton Council in Minehead and Williton. The new council will in addition own a variety of other leased assets/landholdings which are not being considered at this time.
All potentially affected staff have been contacted and will be kept informed of the progress of the reviews.
Somerset County Council’s Associate Lead Member for Development and Assets, Cllr Sarah Wakefield said: “The new Somerset Council is fully committed to providing easy-to-access customer service points across the county, in addition to improved online services.
“We have an opportunity to offer more joined-up services for customers while also finding the right accommodation for our staff and depot operations. I can confirm that this property review is only about buildings – it is not about closing or reducing services.
“We will continue to offer a range of customer services (including libraries) in both Minehead and Williton to ensure that our customers can continue to access services in a location that is convenient to them.
“We will review our depot estate in Minehead to see if there are any opportunities to make the best use of land, including exploring the option of expanding our recycling centre to better meet local need and whether there is potential to reduce the number of separate depots we have in the area whilst fully meeting operational needs.
“Similarly, in reviewing Petters House in Yeovil, we are looking at how best to deliver joined up services and closer working arrangements. This could result in the property being sold or leased with services continuing to be provided in Yeovil Library.
“With regards to County Hall in Taunton there are 3 blocks on this site and one of these – C Block – will soon be empty. We will be developing a future strategy for this block that will consider all options including sale or lease.”
The overall property review will, in time, consider all of the new Council’s operational buildings but this will be a long process and further projects beyond these first three have not yet been scoped.
Post pandemic ways of flexible working have reduced the demand on office spaces and this is being factored into decisions about future requirements. Somerset Council continuing to own, manage and maintain empty or little-used buildings does not make environmental or financial sense.