Somerset’s five existing councils are to be replaced by a new single unitary authority, the Government has announced this evening (Wednesday).
Robert Jenrick, the Secretary for State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, confirmed that the ‘One Somerset’ business case, developed by Somerset County Council, meets the Government’s tests and will be taken forward.
Mr Jenrick’s decision means all five councils in Somerset – the County Council and the four district councils – will be abolished and a new single unitary authority created and in place in 2023.
Cllr David Fothergill, Leader of Somerset County Council, says: “We’re delighted the Secretary of State has backed our ambitious plans to give Somerset the resilient, unified, and dynamic system of local government it deserves.”
“The success of partnership work throughout the pandemic to support our most vulnerable and roll out the vaccination programme has clearly demonstrated what we can achieve in Somerset when we work together.”
“One Somerset is simple, it is clear, and it delivers what our residents want – better services, better value for money, decisions made locally, and an end to the confusion and bureaucracy of having multiple overlapping councils.”
“We are now calling on everyone to get behind One Somerset – and we look forward to working with our district councils, partners and everyone who lives or works in Somerset to deliver our vision of improved services for all.”
The One Somerset business case set out how a single council for Somerset will benefit everyone, with:
- One council listening to the needs and concerns of residents, businesses, and communities, providing clear accountability.
- One point of contact for all local services, ending confusion and frustration for the public.
- One strong voice to champion Somerset on a regional, national, and international level and secure funding to help the county recovery from coronavirus.
- One council but with 15 to 20 new Local Community Networks (LCNs) established reaching every corner of Somerset to give local people the chance to shape their own communities. These will have real constitutional powers to scrutinise, impact and take decisions.
- One plan to free up £18.5 million of funding every year which can be reinvested in improving public services and lives across Somerset. With one-off implementation costs of £16.5m, this means a unitary bonus of £52.6m in the first five years.
“We want all our residents and communities to be a part of this too,” added Cllr Faye Purbrick, Somerset County Council’s Cabinet Member for Transformation and Local Government Reorganisation.
“There will be lots of opportunities for everyone to get involved as the new council is set up. We’re already organising consultative groups and I would encourage anyone with an interest to please get in touch now and help shape the future.”
To receive further information or to get involved in one of the consultative groups, email firstname.lastname@example.org or write to: One Somerset, County Hall, Taunton TA1 4DY.
Mr Jenrick was presented with two proposals for change – One Somerset backed by the county council, and Stronger Somerset, a plan favoured by the district councils.
In reaching his decision Mr Jenrick carried out extensive consultation open to all Somerset residents, businesses and key stakeholders, including the NHS, police, fire and public service organisations. He also sought feedback from all Government departments who are engaged with local delivery.
Both proposals were judged against three key tests – they should improve the area’s local government and service delivery, command a good deal of local support across the area, and have a credible geography between 300-600,000 population.
In his Written Statement just published, Mr Jenrick said he considered the proposal strongly met the improving local government and service delivery criterion. You can read the statement at Written statements – Written questions, answers and statements – UK Parliament.
The next steps will be for Parliament to make a formal decision to set up the new council ahead of elections anticipated in 2022 and then the new unitary council officially in place in April 2023.