Nye Bevan, the Labour MP regarded as the founder of the National Health Service, believed that Labour should ‘seize the power of Parliament in order to create institutions which would empower society’. Bevan said ‘the purpose of getting power is to be able to give it away’. This vision of community empowerment was at the heart of the inaugural speech by new Bridgwater Mayor Cllr Mick Lerry who took office this week. Mick, who was also born in Wales, spent his childhood moving around the country with his family in search of work attending 15 different schools and finally leaving school at the age of 15. His work experience took him into the trade union movement and back to education at Coleg Harlech to retrain as a teacher, a job that brought him to Bridgwater in 1976 where he taught at Blake School. Mick was elected to Sedgemoor District Council in 1987 for Hamp and again in 2011 for Victoria, whereafter he was the Labour group leader. He was also elected to Bridgwater Town Council in 2011 and has held the Economy and Staff portfolio ever since. At the Town Council meeting on 11 May 2023 Town Leader Cllr Brian Smedley said “Micks vision echoing the words of Nye Bevan , is exactly in line with that of Bridgwater Town Council. We want the people of Bridgwater to be completely involved in THEIR Town Council and these changes come at a crucial time with the loss of Sedgemoor District Council and the creation of a new Unitary Somerset. Bridgwater now has to find it’s way in this brave new world, which, it has to be said, is ‘taking a bit of time’ to get itself established….”
Cllr Brian Smedley continued “Mick will take over the Mayoral reigns from Liz Leavy who did a brilliant job and will be approaching it with a different outlook to previous Mayors. Gone will be a lot of the trappings of ceremony. No ‘Mayor Making’ event, just ‘getting on with the job’. No ‘displays of ostentatious affluence’ in a world of austerity and a cost of living crisis. Mick’s focus will be on the town, it’s people and the economy. His principal role will be as Chairman of the Council, as spokesman for the economy – it was Mick that pushed through the key elements of the ‘Town Deal’ from the Town Council perspective, and , with his union head on, developing the growing team of workers at the town council as we continue on the way to our ultimate goal of returning to Borough status with full powers at the most local level.”
All Hands on Deck
Bridgwater is the only outright Labour controlled town council in Somerset with a 13-3 majority over the Tories. At the annual meeting the Conservative Opposition made a point of supporting the Labour programme and in return the Town Leader ensured that they had a seat at the Executive for the first time since the creation of the Town Council in 2003. “We need all hands on deck in this critical year of change. Sedgemoor has gone and it leaves a big gap. It’s replacement as principle council is the new Somerset Unitary- which of course is far too big and remote. That’s where Bridgwater Town Council has to come in and step up. We will be taking on more roles and responsibilities – parks, gardens, buildings, but they have to come with a funding stream. In Bridgwater we’ve managed to keep the council tax at the lowest in Somerset for towns of this size and that’s because Bridgwater, as a working class town, has been hit hard through not just the recent years of austerity and cost of living crisis but the decline can be traced to the end of the Borough Council in 1973 and the loss of control over our own environment. That can all now change as we move forward. This means we need to bring the people with us and this is why we want to encourage people to get involved, especially with our forum system.”
What exactly is this Forum System?
Cllr Smedley explains “On Town we have an executive of 8 members from the ruling group – exactly as Sedgemoor did. Each has an area of special responsibility for the needs of the town. Finance, climate, transport, economy, culture, youth, property and community. Each PFH is supported by a ‘Triad’ – that’s a group of 3 councillors to develop policy and make decisions within their special area. And each triad is required to run a system of public ‘Forums’ which means that councillors can be joined by members of the local community who have a special interest or expertise and work alongside experts in the various fields. This ’empowerment’ is exactly what the new Mayor has alluded to in his Nye Bevan remarks. We gain power and we share it to make sure the people are with us.”
To get involved with the Town Forums either contact the Lead councillor or Bridgwater Town Council admin officer Lorna Williams (email@example.com)
For 2023-24 the Town Council has shuffled around a bit with Mick Lerry as Mayor and PFH Economy and Jacqui Solomon as his Deputy Mayor plus PFH Youth.
Mick will retain his Economy and staff focus and continue his pioneering work as rep on the Town Deal board. Mick will also front the Town Development Forum and bring new ideas to the forefront for public scrutiny.
Jacqui will again run the Youth Forum but increase her area of responsibilities into the schools and colleges.
Some PFHs have stayed the same. The sterling job done by Liz Marsh as PFH community and especially with her key role in organising the Community Celebration event on May 8th has also been recognised.
This year not only has the Towns community role been expanded with the acquisition of the Recreation building on Hamp and the taking over of the South Bridgwater Pantry but her own workload has increased as she also takes on the role of Mayoress.
Also with an increased caseload is PFH Culture Irena Hubble whose roles on the Bridgwater Cultural Partnership have been added to with the SEED project, Blake Museum and the Bridgwater Arts Centre. Projects such as ‘Quayside festival’ are crucial to Bridgwater and as a town full of talented performers and creative individuals and groups the role of ‘Culture’ spokesperson is increasingly important.
Two big changes include Tim Mander who takes on the PFH Property and the chair of Planning.
Tim who worked for most of his life in the field of estates management at Sedgemoor is seen as a crucial member of the team with the unitary changes ahead.
The Towns role in property is expanding as more and more premises come under its remit with the loss of Sedgemoor and the role of the new Unitary still being thought out.
Key areas like markets, the docks and the Fair are likely to come back within the remit of the town and Tims the man for the job!
Also, a new appointment, Richard Morgan, with his green credentials and commitment to ‘active travel’ will see a new role as PFH Transport, fronting the key ‘Transport Forum.
Richard has been a key member of the Climate Triad since his election in 2022 bringing forward many new ideas and initiatives. A keen cyclist and environmentalist now maybe his time to have a positive impact on the green future of our town.
But the biggest workload goes once again to Deputy Leader Kath Pearce. As PFH Climate her role will be expanded this year with the introduction of an ‘Environment Committee’ in preparation of Town taking on the parks and gardens roles and also playing a bigger responsibility in the field of street cleaning and environmental services.
The introduction of the already popular Town Rangers will fall under Kathys remit along with such major areas of responsibility as the allotments, the cemeteries, tree planting, the Meads and the Seed the Day Festival.
Kathy is also a Unitary Councillor and has acquired the key role of Planning Chair for the Area North (former Sedgemoor district) so there’s no doubt her workload will be considerable for the next few years.
Town Council Leader, Brian Smedley, will continue to chair the Finance committee and take the lead in key priority areas such as relations with the Unitary authority, the establishment of the LCNs (Local Community Networks) along with established areas of interest such as Tourism, Twinning, History and in particular relations with the towns many migrant workers through ‘Bridgwater Together’.
For more information on how the Town Council works follow these links
The official Bridgwater Town Council website is here.
And don’t forget our ‘Community Drop ins’, every Wednesday 10 till 12 at the Town Hall. All are welcome and there’s always some councillors there to talk to (plus some normal people too…)