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08.09.16

Taunton Deane and West Somerset councils to merge to deliver savings

Two West Country councils are to form a single local authority after plans were approved last night.

Members of West Somerset District Council voted 21 to four in favour of a merger with Taunton Deane Borough Council.

Cllr Anthony Trollope-Bellew, the Conservative leader of West Somerset council, urged members to back the decision before the vote.

“I have a good relationship with Cllr John Williams [leader of Taunton Deane council]," he said. “He believes we cannot afford to go for option 1 [to remain as two separate councils] and I agree with him.”

Cllr Peter Murphy, from Labour, agreed to second the decision, saying: “West Somerset is being asked to vote itself out of existence in the name of the greater good.”

In his report to the council meeting, Cllr Trollope-Bellew said the merger was needed to resolve “significant financial viability challenges” for West Somerset and to allow Taunton Deane to continue to invest in growth.

West Somerset council is facing a cumulative funding gap of £1.2m by 2021-22, while Taunton Deane faces a gap of £2.5m.

It is estimated that the merger will save £3.1m for the two councils. This is greater than the savings that could be achieved by the councils maintaining sovereignty.

Cllr Trollope-Bellew said that if the councils stood completely alone, West Somerset would be required to cut services “beyond what is acceptable or viable”.

His report noted that this will still leave the new merged council with a “significant” budget gap that will require “focus and strong leadership” to resolve. However, he added: “The scale and capacity of the new council means I am confident there is sufficient choices within the new councils budget and income generating capability for this to be achieved.”

The 2016 State of Local Government found almost 40% of councils believe they will have to cut frontline services in 2016-17 because of increasing financial pressures.

Cllr Trollope-Bellew concluded: “Whilst this requires both councils to relinquish sovereignty, and it is with a heavy heart that I do this, I do believe this offers the best solution for our community. My role as leader is to do the best for our community and this is the only realistic and deliverable option we have.”

The leaders of the two councils will now begin discussing the details of the merger with Sajid Javid, the secretary for communities and local government, and the Local Government Boundary Commission for England.

The merger could follow procedures in either the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007 or the Cities and Local Government Devolution Act 2016, although the procedures to be followed under this act have not yet been developed.

In July, Sedgemoor District Council rejected what it called an “11th hour” invitation to join the merger.

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