Sedgemoor District Council says it is “surprised and disappointed” with an announcement from Somerset County Council that it is considering becoming a unitary authority.
It comes as the leader of Somerset County Council has this week said the possible abolition of district councils in the county could save between £18m and £28m each year.
In a bid to protect frontline services, Cllr David Fothergill (who is shown in the video) has asked for work to begin to look at how a unitary arrangement could work in the county.
This would see the abolition of all six local authorities in the county – including the county council – and replacing them with a smaller number of single-tier authorities, or potentially just one authority.
The council leader says that it would allow services and functions to work together in a more joined-up way and provide a far more powerful voice for the county to speak up for Somerset at Government level.
But Sedgemoor District Council – which would be abolished – has attacked the plans.
“At the forefront of all our considerations will be what is best for the residents of Sedgemoor and the wider Somerset communities,” says spokeswoman Claire Faun.
“Whilst the last debate on this subject was ten years ago, the business case for one or more unitary authorities for the geographical area of Somerset was not proven, nor wanted by the community. A referendum was held and 84% of the respondents voted No.”
“We recognise that Somerset County Council have severe financial pressures and have offered help by devolution of various services to districts. SDC reiterates its long-held position of never turning down an income generation or cost reduction opportunity without first considering any business case.”
“This would mean proper, thorough and meaningful dialogue with all councils, their elected members and our MPs about how to move forward constructively in a timely fashion, where the interests of the communities are at the heart of the way forward. Sedgemoor District Council is performing well, delivering excellent services and a sound financial basis.”
The idea has been met with mixed responses with one councillor saying it would mean getting “turkeys to vote for Christmas”.
Conservative David Fothergill said: “At a time of unprecedented financial pressures on all councils we are all looking at different ways to be more efficient, make savings and protect the front-line services that our residents value so much.”
“I believe that we owe it to our residents to look at this option too.”
“I want start the ball rolling on work to establish the benefits and costs of such a change so that we can all make an informed decision as to whether a unitary model is the right way to go.”
He said savings from introducing a single-authority would include £500,000 per year by moving from five chief executives to one, and about £1m per year by reducing the number of councillors covering the county by about half from the current 300.
Other savings would come through reducing the number of HR, customer services and finance teams, and reducing the number of IT and utilities contracts and transport costs.
The Conservative leaders of West Somerset and Taunton Deane said they were prepared to discuss the idea, while the Liberal Democrat leader of South Somerset described the news as “a bombshell” and said “none of us [district council leaders] want to go down this route but we have to put the people of Somerset first”.