Somerset County Council has appealed to residents and businesses to get behind its controversial plans for a new model of local government which it claims would offer improved public services for all.
It comes as the Government has this week started a public consultation into changing the way local councils work in Somerset.
Four options are on the table: a system featuring an Eastern Somerset council and Western Somerset council (known as ‘Stronger Somerset’); a single council covering the whole of the country (‘One Somerset’); no change; or greater collaboration between existing councils.
The ‘One Somerset’ team say the consultation gives everyone the chance to have their say on setting up a unitary council approach – scrapping all five councils in the county and creating a new way of working.
‘One Somerset’ is the County Council’s plan to replace the county’s five existing councils with a simple, single unitary model.
It claims this would end confusion for residents, remove waste and duplication, and free up funding to invest in vital public services.
The council says it would also offer more powers for local communities and give Somerset ‘one strong voice’ to lobby for funding and support the county’s recovery from coronavirus.
Somerset’s district councils have instead proposed a different ‘Stronger Somerset’ proposal to create two new councils rather one to reflect the size of the county, as we reported here.
This One Somerset proposal already has support from some Somerset MPs, health organisations and the Police and Crime Commissioner, along with some residents and business leaders.
Now Cllr David Fothergill, Leader of Somerset County Council, is calling for everyone to support the plans and help shape the future for Somerset.
“This is a fantastic, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us to improve public services for everyone in Somerset,” he said. “No more waste and duplication, no more confusion over who does what, just one strong, modern council, listening to the needs of Somerset’s residents and delivering what matters most for them.”
“It is now clear that staying the same is not an option. This means a simple choice between our ambitious vision or the Stronger Somerset idea, which would see the county split in half with two rival halves competing for the same resources. They want to add additional layers of bureaucracy and keep the waste and confusion.”
“I strongly encourage all residents, organisations and businesses to get behind One Somerset and make sure the Government hears your voice.”
A final decision on which proposal will go forward to implementation is expected to be taken by the Government in summer 2021, with any new authority starting in 2023.
The consultation period will run for 8 weeks until Monday 19 April. Those responding may do so on the department’s online platform ‘Citizen Space’ or by email or post.
To take part in the Government’s consultation and have your say, please visit https://consult.communities.gov.uk/governance-reform-and-democracy/somerset/ .