Burnham-On-Sea MP James Heappey

Burnham-On-Sea’s MP has joined calls for a referendum on the future of local Government in Somerset to be voided after a link to a “highly offensive spoof website” was printed in the literature in place of a link to the official One Somerset (unitary) website.

Somerset MPs James Heappey (pictured), Marcus Fysh, Rebecca Pow and David Warburton have  all spoken out, saying the ‘advisory referendum’ has been “corrupted.”

It comes as hundreds of thousands of Somerset residents have started to receive ballot papers on the future of local Government.

The paperwork sent out by the district councils states that voters can find out more details about the ‘One Somerset’ unitary council proposals by visiting an unofficial, spoof website at https://onesomerset.org/ rather than the official site at https://onesomerset.org.uk/

In a statement issued last night, the MPs say: “The official consultation on this issue has now closed, however the District Councils decided to carry out their own research and have sent letters relating to this to all electors in Somerset.”

“Whatever ones’ view on which model for local Government is preferable, it is questionable whether Government money should have been spent on this exercise.”

“The literature refers readers to a highly offensive spoof website to gain information about the One Somerset (unitary) proposal, which is deeply misleading, and has corrupted this process.”

“The leaflet clearly states that the text for this literature was drafted by an independent law firm, but the inclusion of this spoof website demonstrates that this is highly misleading, biased and shows that the process has been corrupted.”

“The decision to run this referendum was taken by the political leadership of the four district councils but the execution of the referendum is in the hands of the four senior officials within the councils that act as Returning Officers.”

“This causes us concern as in that capacity as Returning Officers for all elections in the county, it is essential that Somerset residents have absolute confidence that they are entirely above politics and can be trusted to run free and fair elections.”

“We call upon the four Returning Officers to apologise for the inclusion of a spoof website address in the literature and to declare the referendum void on the basis that information presented to residents by them as impartial, is clearly not.”

“There must then be an investigation into how so much tax payer’s money could be wasted on a process that has been undermined by this mistake – or worse still – deliberate attempt to mislead the Somerset public.”

“We have made the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government aware of our concerns over the corruption of this process and hope that if the accountable officers within the councils will not do the right thing and void this referendum, that he will.”

A statement has been issued on behalf of leaders of the District Councils of Somerset: “We are aware of the issue that has been raised regarding one of the leaflets included in the public poll ballot pack. It is being taken very seriously and we would like to apologise for any distress this has caused.”

“We understand that one of the website links included in the information pack is incorrect and, for further information, you should be visiting www.strongersomerset.co.uk or www.onesomerset.org.uk. For clarity, the leaflet was drafted by an independent third party and sent to Somerset County Council in advance of the poll for proofing, but we did not receive any comment on the content.”

“However, we are also clear that more efforts should have been made when the documentation was being produced and independently verified to ensure all information was correct.”

“We are investigating how the error occurred and will make efforts to ensure that the website which currently features some offensive content is taken down. We have contacted the police.”

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