Unitary proposals take big step forward as Government invites Somerset to submit plans

Somerset County Council Leader David Fothergill has welcomed receipt of a letter from Government which paves the way for a new model of local government in the county.

The County Council has asked the Government to consider replacing the five existing councils in Somerset with One Somerset – a simple, single unitary council to end confusion for residents, remove duplication and free up funding to invest in vital public services. 

The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Robert Jenrick, has now written to all council leaders in Somerset inviting them to submit their case for change by 9 November 2020.

Cllr David Fothergill, Leader of Somerset County Council, said: “I am delighted that the Secretary of State has invited us to submit a business case for local government reform in Somerset. I have long campaigned for a single unitary approach for our county which will reduce duplication, deliver significant savings and most importantly improve lives for residents in our county.

“From investing in climate change to reducing inequalities, we are convinced a single unitary approach is the right way forward. Our proposal ticks all the boxes for the Government’s tests and we are confident we have a compelling case to put before the Secretary of State.”

The County Council and all four district councils in Somerset have voted in favour of a unitary system in recent months.

The One Somerset business case was approved by County Councillors in July and passes each of the Government’s tests for unitary status – it is based on local people having more say on decisions that affect them; it is the right size for our population; and it has good support.   

One Somerset is the only option to provide one council to listen to the needs of Somerset’s residents – and the only option to provide one clear voice to represent Somerset’s best interests on a national and international stage. This will help deliver everyone’s ambition for a prosperous, attractive and safe county.

But this approach is opposed by the four district councils who recently announced a unitary U-turn and voted to divide the county and replace the five existing councils with five new organisations – two new unitary councils, a children’s trust, a combined authority with elected mayor, and a shareholder-owned Shared Service Delivery organisation. 

Recent independent research by the County Councils Network (CCN) suggested single councils would reduce complexity and risk, improve services for people, and could save £2.9bn over five years nationally. However, the report also warned this saving would be reduced significantly by splitting counties into multiple unitaries – with additional risks of disruption to the safeguarding of vulnerable children and potential impacts on the quality and availability of support packages and care home placements for adults who require additional support.  

To find out more about the One Somerset model and have your say, please visit www.onesomerset.org.uk. You can stay up to date with progress on Twitter @One1Somerset and on Facebook @OneSomerset.   https://onesomerset.org.uk/