Somerset leaders ‘cannot stand by’ plans to scrap six councils in ‘unrealistic’ savings bid

The leaders of five Somerset district councils have hit back against proposals that would see local government in the area dramatically changed and converted into larger unitary authorities.

In a public letter, the heads of Taunton Deane Borough Council and Mendip, South Somerset, Sedgemoor, and West Somerset district councils say they “cannot stand by” a move that would change the local political landscape and pose risks to area services.

Last week it was claimed that plans to scrap all five councils, in addition to Somerset County Council (the larger authority which encompasses the five smaller councils in Somerset), would save the region up to £28m.

Yet leaders of the local authorities have denounced this suggestion as “unrealistic” and not based on a sound analysis of the local council’s position.

Citing a growing demand for adult social care and its financial impact on the local area, the district and borough authorities conceded that there was a need for change in local government structure. However the letter argues the councils have been fiscally responsible in their actions.

“All the district councils in Somerset have taken tough decisions and actions to secure their finances and protect services. It is because of this that they will be financially sound in the future, and the claim that a unitary authority is needed to protect district council services is misplaced and just plain wrong,” the council leaders argued.

“Given its financially precarious position, the districts intend to work with Somerset County Council and other partners to examine all the options for reform in Somerset local government. The districts will ensure any change is the right change for the communities of Somerset.”

Cllr 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 frontline 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."

Image credit: ValeryEgorov, iStock Images


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