An independent report released this week highlights the benefits of creating a new single council in Somerset – and warns of the dangers and costs of dividing the county into multiple unitary authorities.
It comes as Somerset County Council has asked the Government to consider replacing the five existing councils in Somerset with a simple, single unitary council to end confusion, remove duplication and free up funding for key services.
The ‘One Somerset’ approach is opposed by the four district councils who recently announced a unitary U-turn and are now seeking to replace the five existing councils with five new organisations – two new unitary councils, a children’s trust, a combined authority with elected mayor, and a shareholder-owned Shared Service Delivery organisation.
The benefits of unitary are highlighted by the County Councils Network (CCN) with new independent research suggesting single councils would reduce complexity and risk, improve service performance for people, and could save £2.9bn over five years nationally.
However, the report also warned this saving would be reduced significantly by splitting county council services into multiple unitaries – with additional risks of disruption to the safeguarding of vulnerable children and potential impacts on the quality and availability of support packages and care home placements for adults who require additional support.
On Wednesday (September 9th), further analysis of the local situation in Somerset undertaken by the CCN and PwC has been published. This drills into the detail and projects a net benefit of £19.4m if the One Somerset model was implemented. It argues that county services are already ‘hyper local’ and closer to their communities, often being delivered to vulnerable people in their own homes.
Meanwhile, a two unitary plus children’s trust approach would have greater implementation costs of £28.8m and net benefits of just £2.1m.
The report also highlights the benefits of establishing one clear voice for the county with a single council, but warns of the impact of breaking up key services, like social care and health, with a multi-unitary model.
Cllr David Fothergill, Leader of Somerset County Council, said: “We’ve always been really clear and positive about the benefits of One Somerset – it ends confusion, removes duplication and provides a fantastic opportunity for people to get involved with the things which matter to them in their communities.”
“Now we’re seeing more and more authorities nationally exploring the options and it’s great to see some really detailed independent analysis supporting the single council model.”
“I’m pleased the districts have U-turned on unitary but all the evidence is telling us that dividing Somerset further presents a real danger of disruption to key services and will generate additional costs.”
“I would encourage everyone to look closely at the business cases and consider all the evidence carefully before making up their own minds about the best way forward for Somerset’s communities, residents and businesses.”
The One Somerset business case was approved by County Councillors in July and has a big tick against each of the Government’s tests for unitary status – it is based on local people having more say on decisions that affect them; it is the right size for our population; and it has good support.
The CCN report can be found at https://www.countycouncilsnetwork.org.uk/new-analysis-reveals-that-single-unitary-councils-could-deliver-3bn-saving-over-five-years-and-maximise-the-benefits-of-economic-growth-and-housing-policy/