|UH delegation in Kings Square, Bridgwater|
After visiting the German town of Mayenne to study Education and the Italian town of Priverno to pick up tips on Tourism, they came to Bridgwater to try to understand the complicated British local government system....and to see how we'd got on with 'Town Planning', 'Flood Prevention', 'New Nuclear' 'Community impact' and 'Environmental Health'.........Good choices!
What lessons could they learn??
|Barbora translates for Sedgemoor officers Claire & Nick|
What lessons could they learn from Sedgemoor District Council, Bridgwater Town Council and Somerset County Council? Well, the first one was why we had so many councils in the first place!!
On Day one they were welcomed at Bridgwater House by Sedgemoor top brass Kerry Rickards (Chief Executive) and Council leader Duncan McGinty who explained how the District Council fits into the jigsaw of Local Authorities - much more akin to the powers of their own Council back home and with a similar Executive Committee system (all of whom appear to be Deputy Mayors). The Czechs toured the Council offices, noting the empty spaces soon to be filled with an influx of County Council workers as the two Authorities begin to share office space , and intrigued by the open planned nature of the floors with their latest 'hot desking' spots allowing for more home working.
The CCTV control centre was an eye opener, particularly in civil hands and not in the vaults of some all seeing Police Authority....or is it....?
Flooding - to Dredge or Not to Dredge....
|Cllr McGinty shows the Czechs around Bridgwater House|
Taking a break from filling their heads with data we took them to 'meet the people'. We chose the George Inn , Middlezoy for a game of skittles and a chat with the locals. But it was back to work when who should they meet but local Councillor Nobby Turner who was keen to put the case for river dredging and even gave them his own precious book on the subject.
|Cllr Fothergill explains Somerset's role in everything|
They'd heard about flooding and coastal erosion - and now they were to hear that a gigantic Nuclear Power station was to be built nearby. Next to the other two. Bob Brown and Claire Pearce explained how planning was taken out of the hands of the local authorities and that this was a Government initiative which they had to tackle head on to get the maximum benefit for the affected community out of it. There would be jobs and better paid jobs plus an influx of workers , many of who would stay and all of who would increase the tax base and give a boost to the economy. There had been a major tsunami in the Bristol Channel, but that was in 1609, several seconds ago in the geological history of the planet.
They went off to spend some money in Burnham on Sea . And get a good view of the power stations.
|Czechs in the Sedgemoor room|
So they went to Glastonbury to climb a hill and think about how Somerset might fit into this.
And on Thursday they went to County Hall, being met by Chairman Cllr Fothergill and deputy leader Cllr Hall. Strategic functions were the county remit including the highways, education and regional planning - in Czech Rep these were government functions or arms length agencies. The numbers appeared vaster - wards bigger and the reach of accountability that little more strained. David Hall explained that one of his key policies was to bring superfast broadband to Somerset. And at that point the internet failed and he couldn't show the County promotional video.
Back to Sedgemoor and a keynote presentation by top planning officer Nick Tait. This was the Czechs main topic and they wouldn't let poor Nick go back to work as they kept him talking and answering questions - 'How do you make sure the public are with you with these developments?' , (he explained the extensive consultation processes they engage in) 'Why do you build houses in floodzones?' (He explained the Flood levy that will contribute to an eventual barrage) 'Are your policies popular?' (He handed over to Duncan McGinty....)
|Anglo-Czech jamming at the Bridgwater Art Centre|
On the Friday they had another shock in store. There was another level of local government they'd forgotten. That was the Unitary Authority - which maybe Sedgemoor, Bridgwater and Somerset should have voted for after all. Luckily Bristol up the road was one of these and also had a directly elected Mayor who could choose his own cabinet. So they paid a visit. Another piece of the jigsaw fell into place. Not to mention Bristol had only just defeated Uherske Hradiste in some European Floral contest in Belgium recently and by half a bitter point.
|Bristols Deputy Mayor Gollop explains Unitary Authorities|