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South Somerset District Council confirms it cannot support county's council's plan for "one size fits all" local government

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Tonight (16 July), South Somerset District Council confirmed that it cannot support Somerset County Council’s business case for a unitary council.

Somerset’s district councils are currently working on a proposal for extensive reform in the county which will be developed with our communities to create a better future.

It will address the key challenges for Somerset which include:

  • High rates of children growing up in poverty and poor social mobility
  • Large numbers of struggling families
  • Growing numbers of older people who are increasingly living in poor health
  • The climate emergency
  • Homelessness and the lack of genuinely affordable housing
  • The economy including productivity, skills and wage levels

South Somerset District Council agrees that widespread change is needed to create a better future for our communities and better connect local services with our residents. But it does not believe the county council's One Somerset proposal will do this.

Tonight, councillors voted by a significant majority to agree that the single council approach from the county council cannot be supported as it is based on failed examples of change, features inadequate evidence and demonstrates a high risk of bad outcomes for residents and communities.

South Somerset District Council Leader Val Keitch said: “We agree change is needed but the old-fashioned approach proposed by the county council for the cheapest form of local Government is not the solution. The county council’s business case provides some interesting data and does contain a few ideas that are worth discussing further. It is, however, a missed opportunity. Its proposal for a traditional reorganisation is not ambitious enough for Somerset, its residents and its communities.

“We want to have a proper conversation with the residents of Somerset to help us find the right answers and we believe the districts are best-placed to take this forward. The county council will be welcome to rejoin this work at any time.”

Cllr John Clark, portfolio holder for economic development, said: “South Somerset District Council is open to the view that the unitary approach may provide a solution to the future of local government in Somerset, but centralised unitary councils at the huge scale proposed have consistently failed to understand the needs of communities and residents.

“With the social challenges listed above, a transformative solution should therefore be brought forward by district councils who will better understand and efficiently resource the necessary services rather than cut them.”

In summary, South Somerset District Council voted to agree:

  • The proposed unitary authority is based on failed examples of local government which have lost vital local services and democratic accountability. South Somerset District Council cannot support a risky experiment to suffer a similar fate.
  • Currently, residents, businesses and communities are supported by districts that have demonstrated sound financial management and digital transformation, and deliver valuable services. The county administration has focused on making cuts and not meeting community needs, reducing budgets to the point of service failure.
  • A single Somerset unitary is too big for effective local democracy in Somerset, and will lead to a substantial democratic deficit.
  • One of the government’s tests for change in Local Government is a strong level of public support. The SCC business case’s exaggerated claims on this are wrong, not only because the business case has just been published, but because the last time a single unitary was suggested, it was rejected by about 82% of the population.
  • The financial arguments in the business case appear to be inadequate and flawed, and urgently need an independent and thorough investigation.

South Somerset District Council will continue to work with all councils in Somerset to support our communities through the Coronavirus crisis, and alongside Mendip District Council, Sedgemoor District Council and Somerset West & Taunton Council on a proposal for reform in Local Government that is developed both with and for our residents, businesses and partners.

Just as Somerset County Council, the district councils need to be invited by the Government to submit our plan for positive change.

If and when that invitation is received, we will consult with our communities on our proposals to help the people we serve, alongside partners in the NHS, police and more, to shape the way our plans develop.

This will be a proposal developed with our communities to create better outcomes for everyone in Somerset.


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