Government backs single council for Somerset

Somerset County Council could cease to exist following today's announcement. Credit: ITV News

Five councils in Somerset could be scrapped and replaced by just one authority in a major redesign of local government.

The news follows an announcement from the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government MP Robert Jenrick.

In a statement, he said: “Residents, businesses and service providers in Somerset have had their say on what will work best for their area and now councils can start planning for the next step.

“Where there is local support, changing the structure of local government can offer better value for money and improved services for residents.”

Somerset County Council has been campaigning for change in local government for years. Credit: ITV News

The next step of the process will be to seek approval Parliament so that the plans can be implemented.

The decision will affect over half a million people who live in the Somerset County Council area, which includes towns such as Taunton, Bridgwater, Yeovil and Frome.

The authorities being abolished could be Somerset County Council, Somerset West & Taunton Council, Mendip District Council, South Somerset District Council and Sedgemoor District Council.

The announcement is in line with the wishes of Somerset County Council, which has been arguing for a single unitary authority for the area for years.

The change will bring the area in line with places like Dorset, Wiltshire and Cornwall, which all have unitary councils.

It will mean that residents' council tax goes to one new authority instead of to a district and a county council. That authority will take on all their responsibilities - including sectors such as education, roads, planning and licensing.

The decision does not affect people who live in North Somerset or the Bath and North East Somerset area, which already have unitary councils.

In a joint statement, the Leaders of Somerset’s four District Councils said:“The Secretary of State is riding roughshod over the people of Somerset who voted 65% to 35% in favour of the Stronger Somerset plan over the other scheme chosen by the Secretary of State.  “That vote was the third time in recent history that the people of Somerset have decisively rejected proposal for a single unitary – following the referendum in 2007 and the Ipsos MORI survey in 2020.“By ignoring the will of the people, the Secretary of State is breaking the bond of trust between elected representatives and those they represent. The opportunities to address the real challenges our county faces – how to reduce demand on expensive crisis services, to break the cycle of inequality and under-achievement, to invest in local solutions to local issues – risk being squandered by foisting a manifestly unpopular new local government on our residents.“We are duty bound to represent the interests of our constituents to our fullest ability. We will continue to seek to ensure that their voices are heard. There is still chance for Parliament to see sense and force a rethink. We just cannot understand why the wishes of the people of Somerset are being ignored.”

Cllr David Fothergill, Leader of Somerset County Council, said: “​We’re delighted the Secretary of State has backed our ambitious plans to give Somerset the resilient, unified, and dynamic system of local government it deserves.“The success of partnership work throughout the pandemic to support our most vulnerable and roll out the vaccination programme has clearly demonstrated what we can achieve in Somerset when we work together.

"One Somerset is simple, it is clear, and it delivers what our residents want – better services, better value for money, decisions made locally, and an end to the confusion and bureaucracy of having multiple overlapping councils. “We are now calling on everyone to get behind One Somerset – and we look forward to working with our district councils, partners and everyone who lives or works in Somerset to deliver our vision of improved services for all.”