New report states the case for unitary councils

Leader of Somerset County Council David Fothergill today welcomed a new report making the case for unitary authorities based on county council boundaries.

The report, Making Counties Count, is co-authored by Nick King, who was Chief of Staff to former Government Secretary of State Sajid Javid.

He argues that county authorities are best placed to be the basis for further devolution deals, with the economic impact of coronavirus making this even more important.

Cllr Fothergill said the report clearly demonstrates that the One Somerset proposal – creating a single unitary authority for the county – is both timely and in line with current thinking.

The report calls for government to move to a system of a single layer of local authorities based on current county council boundaries, with new powers for town and parish councils to focus on genuinely local issues. Not only do the authors conclude single county unitary authorities deliver the greatest financial benefit and would be most understandable to the public by retaining local identities, they would also make the most sense to develop local economic recovery strategies.

“The report underlines exactly what we are saying – that a single council for Somerset will end confusion about who does what and bring real benefits to communities and our businesses.

“Polling carried out for the report by You Gov shows that fewer than one in five people – just 18 per cent – find it easy to understand what services their councils provide,” said Cllr Fothergill.

Somerset County Council has approved the business case for One Somerset which sets out innovative plans to abolish the five existing County and District councils and replace them with a single unitary.

In line with the Making Counties Count report, there are plans to create 15 to 20 new Local Community Networks (LCNs) across Somerset. One Somerset will give local people the opportunity to shape their communities. These will have real constitutional decision making powers to scrutinise, shape policy and take action to improve communities.

Estimated to save £18.5m per year through reducing duplication, delivering economies of scale and reduction to back office and multiple contracts, One Somerset will lead to more investment in prevention and front-line service improvements.

Report co-author Nick King said: “If we are going to be successful in levelling up the economy, stimulating growth and recovering from the Covid pandemic, we need every part of our country to be firing on all cylinders – and that includes local government.

“Local government in England is baffling to most people and in clear need of overhaul: two-tier government is simply less effective, less efficient and less sustainable. Whilst simplifying structures by creating more unitary councils, the Government should also put significant powers into local hands.”

A link to the report is here: Making Counties Count Report.

For more information about One Somerset, visit www.onesomerset.org.uk. You can also stay up to date with the campaign on Twitter @One1Somerset and on Facebook @OneSomerset.