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Javid minded to approve Somerset councils’ merger

A proposal to merge two Somerset councils has received initial approval from the secretary for communities and local government.

Sajid Javid said he was “minded to” implement the locally led merger between Taunton Deane Borough Council and West Somerset District Council, in Somerset.

The secretary of state said the plans – which propose to create a single district council – were in line with the criteria he has previously set out for these situations.

“I am satisfied, on the basis of the information currently available to me, that each of these proposals fully meets the criteria that I told the House on 7 November 2017 I would use for assessing proposals for merging district councils,” Javid explained.

There are three conditions that must be met for these mergers to receive approval, including reassurances that change will improve local government in the areas concerned.

Javid has also said the plans have to receive local support with all the councils which could be merged being involved in the proposal, adding that the authorities involved are in geographically adjacent areas which can correctly facilitate the combination of services.

In a joint statement between the leaders of both councils, Cllr John Williams (Taunton Deane) and Cllr Anthony Trollope-Bellew (West Somerset) said they “welcomed the secretary’s announcement.”

“We have the support of partners, other councils in Somerset, key players in business and the voluntary sector – all play a vital part in the life of our two areas,” they commented.

“Our proposal will deliver further savings, service improvements and resilience, stronger leadership and improved local governance. Ultimately, it will deliver financially viable local government services in our area in the future.

“This new council will make sure we can continue to deliver the services that our residents value, allowing us to focus on boosting our economy, supporting the delivery of the new Hinkley Point C nuclear power station and fully embracing the opportunity afforded by Garden Town status awarded to Taunton.”

Initially, the merger was also expected to include Sedgemoor District Council, but councillors decided not to join with the plans because they felt they had been given too little time to consider the business case.

This left Taunton Deane and West Somerset to finalise plans in September last year, with both councils looking to shorten funding gaps totalling more than £3m by 2021-22. They expect a merger of this sort to save around the same amount of money through combining services and improving economies of scale.

Javid revealed that there would be a period between now and 19 January 2018 which would be set aside for the government to receive modifications on the implementation of the plans.

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