A new era dawned in Somerset on Saturday (1st April) with the official launch of the new Somerset Council.
In a shake-up that creates a new unitary council, Somerset Council replaces the four district councils – Mendip, Sedgemoor, Somerset West and Taunton, and South Somerset – bringing services, staff, and elected members under one umbrella.
The new council pledges that this “will free up resources, including £18million every year, to protect jobs and services; grow Somerset’s voice nationally; help to deliver the investment in business and infrastructure; and drive action to tackle climate change.”
Cllr Bill Revans, Leader of Somerset County Council, pictured, says: “This is the biggest shake up of local government in Somerset for 50 years. While people will see some immediate benefits, such as simpler ways to get in touch, there won’t be a big difference right away.”
“In the years ahead, services will be more joined-up and we can use this powerful new council to take on the big challenges such as improving opportunities for young people, managing the impacts of an ageing population, and addressing the cost-of-living and climate crises.”
Somerset Council, with 110 councillors, is one of the largest unitary councils in England – with 512 services – and its scale will enable innovative approaches to tackling the big challenges faced today.
Cllr Val Keitch, Executive Member for Local Government Reorganisation and Prosperity, added: “The new council will have strong links with local communities built in. The introduction of 18 Local Community Networks (LCNs) across the county will involve a wide range of people and partners with real power to influence the issues that matter to them.”
“Creating a new council is a complex project that we’ve delivered on time and on budget. That is thanks to hardworking council staff working collaboratively for the good of our county. This exemplifies how in Somerset we get the job done.”
Why is a new council being created?
Local councillors asked the government for permission for the move a few years ago.
They said scrapping the county council and four district councils and replacing them with one new council would save money and remove duplication. For example, instead of five council chief executives, there will be just one.
The current county council, which is leading the change, says the single authority will end confusion about which council does what, making it easier for people to get help.
What will the new council do?
Somerset Council will be in charge of all services currently provided by the county and district councils.
Those include adult and children’s social services, highways, leisure facilities, planning and some council houses.
It is replacing Somerset West and Taunton Council, Mendip District Council, Sedgemoor District Council and South Somerset District Council, as well as the county council itself.
The change brings Somerset in line with neighbouring Wiltshire, North Somerset and Bath and North East Somerset councils, which are all unitary authorities.
Who will be running it?
The Liberal Democrats have a majority of councillors, 61, on the new authority. A total of 110 councillors were elected in May 2022, in preparation for the move to the new council.
The Conservatives are the second biggest party, in opposition, with 36 councillors. They were running the county council when the idea of becoming a unitary authority was put forward.