Plans for a new Unitary Council to be formed in Somerset have taken a step forward this week in a fresh bid to transform local government.
Somerset County Council Leader David Fothergill, pictured, has written to Robert Jenrick MP, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, to kick-start the case for a Unitary Council in Somerset.
If successful, it would see all four district councils in Somerset scrapped and replaced with a new unitary authority.
It follows a recent independent report commissioned by Somerset County Council and the four district councils which was published earlier this year, outlining several benefits for switching to unitary status.
However, as we reported here, the four district councils in Somerset say they would prefer to work more closely together, rather than merging. The report estimated that moving to one new authority covering all of Somerset could save up to £47m a year, but may cost more than £82m to implement.
Cllr Fothergill has said this week be believes that financial savings of up to £25 million can be made by ‘cutting waste and reducing duplication’, allowing funds to be reinvested to improve services.
The letter is the starting point and Cllr Fothergill has to formally ask the Secretary of State for permission to submit a business case. If permission is granted, it is intended to do this before the summer recess.
In his letter, Cllr Fothergill sets out the case for one Somerset. He writes: “I believe that one council for Somerset now offers the best vehicle to deliver joined up services and opportunities for the residents of Somerset, with more local focus, delivery and accountability. A council where everyone knows who is responsible, where crucial services can work in a more joined up way and where more, not less, is managed in the heart of our communities.”
“There is a significant saving, a huge unitary bonus for us to invest in Somerset’s frontline services. I believe that it is essential we secure that bonus and listen to residents about where it should be spent.”
“One Somerset is not a takeover – it would see all councils scrapped and replaced with a new unitary authority. This would allow more decisions to be made locally at parish, town and city level rather than in remote district councils.”
“It would mean less waste – one chief executive instead of five, one leadership team, one set of back offices, one set of Councillors… It would be simpler for residents – one point of contact for all council-related queries… It would strengthen Somerset’s position on a national level – one voice to lobby government for more funding, better road and rail infrastructure, or to attract new businesses and boost the economy.”
Cllr Fothergill adds: “The recent report showed there was up to £47 million of savings by moving to a unitary. I don’t quite buy the £47 million, but if it was £25 million, what could we do with that? We could heavily invest in our services and make sure that we were running really sustainable long-term public services for people in Somerset.”
“We could also devolve powers to our towns, parishes and cities who are very capable and not remote like the district councils. They could be there looking after their communities and really providing very local services.”
“There is a big, big unitary bonus that we need to grasp and we need to reinvest back into local services in Somerset.”
You can read the letter in full and find out more about the case for One Somerset at www.onesomerset.org.uk.