Burnham-On-Sea MP James Heappey

Burnham-On-Sea’s MP James Heappey has this week welcomed news that a single unitary council is to be formed in Somerset in place of the district councils.

He says the single council will be “a more efficient way of delivering county-wide services” despite a poll of residents finding there was more support for two councils in Somerset.

The Secretary of State announced on Wednesday evening that a single unitary council will be formed in Somerset, as we reported here.

MP James Heappey told Burnham-On-Sea.com: “We have been well served for many decades by hardworking councillors and officials on both our County and District Councils. I am grateful to all of them for all their hard work, especially over the last 12 months as they have coordinated the Covid-19 response in our communities.”

“I strongly agree that we should, however, transition to a unitary authority and I am glad that all councils in Somerset agree that in principle. Having all local services vested in a single council makes it much easier to hold our local authorities to account – I often find that residents are unclear whether a service is provided by the County or the District. I also think it represents much better value for money if public services are delivered through a unitary rather than two separate authorities.”

“However, whilst all councils in Somerset agree that we should have a unitary authority, the County and the District have developed competing proposals on how we should progress. I have written to the Secretary of State to encourage that we adopt the One Somerset vision.”

“In my view, the single county unitary – as there is in Cornwall and Wiltshire – is a more efficient way of delivering county-wide services whilst creating space for more empowered town and parish councils. Personally, I believe the larger council actually creates more room for ultra-local decision making and I have been impressed by the resurgence of town councils in Wiltshire since they went down this path.”

“Somerset is too often caught out for being split in its strategy and messaging. Are we an East/West County centred on the A303 corridor and the M5? Or are we a North/South County looking to both Bristol and Bath as well as Exeter? This lack of clarity in our purpose diminishes our voice in the region and nationally.”

“A single strategic voice is a better option than perpetrating a split narrative. I am conscious that in the past, I have argued for a North/South split but reflecting on the practicalities, I have no hesitation in admitting that this would have been unworkable both in that it would have split Somerset’s voice and the councils to our north were not interested in joining us.”

“That all said, there were some innovations in the Stronger Somerset bid that I like and that I would like One Somerset to look at, if asked to take the plans forward. It’s important that everyone regards this as an entirely new enterprise, not just a continuation of the current County Council.”

“Finally, I recognise that a ‘referendum’ was run by the District, but I am afraid I don’t believe it moves the dial over which proposal is better. The ‘referendum’ was not official, was not supported by both sides, and included a grotesque error that undermined the exercise completely. I am angry that so much tax payer’s money was wasted on an exercise run after the Government’s consultation period was already over.”

“I hope that all sides will now work together – no matter what the Secretary of State decides to deliver to Somerset residents. This is an exciting moment.”


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