· One Somerset Business Case submitted to Government
· Blueprint for better local services and better value for money published
· 10 clear public pledges launched to deliver One Somerset
· Alternative district proposal condemned as a ‘Berlin Wall’ splitting county in half
· District proposal replaces 5 councils with 5 organisations & ‘a plan for chaos’
Somerset County Council is today setting out its commitment to the people of Somerset with the announcement of ten pledges to improve local services and guarantee value for money.
The announcement comes as a detailed business case, One Somerset, is submitted to Government that would replace the existing outdated, bureaucratic and confusing local government system of five councils with a one single authority responsible for all council services in the county.
Ministers in Whitehall wrote formally to all Somerset councils in October inviting them to make proposals for Local Government Reform (LGR).
The ten pledges deliver directly on what matters most to residents, communities and businesses as shown by extensive consultation undertaken as part of the work around One Somerset in recent months.
They commit to protecting Somerset’s most vulnerable people, creating greater powers for local communities, delivering better value for money and reject the idea splitting the county in half, creating competing rivals, as favoured by the district councils within Somerset.
The Pledges are:
1. No disruption to local services as we change, and a promise to keep you fully informed.
2. We will protect those front-line staff working with vulnerable people across the county.
3. Council tax will not increase because of moving to a single unitary council.
4. Physical, face-to-face council contact points across the county.
5. One telephone number and one website to access ALL council services.
6. Improved services for our vulnerable residents including housing, adults’ & children’s services.
7. Improved services for our children and young people, including education, training, jobs and transport.
8. More local decision making by our town and parish councils and new local community networks.
9. Closer relationships with partners including the NHS, police, education, and the voluntary sector to deliver better services.
10. And finally, we will not split Somerset in half, divide communities, lose our proud identity, or weaken our standing on a local, regional and national level.
Public engagement held earlier in the year showed that a good number of Somerset residents favoured moving to a unitary system of local government to end confusion, minimise duplication and make savings that could be reinvested in critical public services.
Leader of the Council David Fothergill said: “Today we have submitted the full business case for One Somerset, our ambitions for Somerset, and we are announcing ten pledges as our visible commitment to the people of Somerset in delivering this approach.
“One Somerset is simple, it is clear, and it delivers on what our residents want: better services, better value for money, decisions made locally and an end to the confusion and bureaucracy of having five councils in our county.
“Yet, the districts are clinging to the dark ages and want to put a Berlin Wall down the middle of our county, splitting it in half and creating rival factions competing for the same resources. Amazingly, their plans would replace the existing five councils with, wait for it, five separate organisations each with their own staff and bureaucracies. This is a plan for chaos and confusion.
“On every measure and on every test, the district’s 5 model approach does not stack up: greater costs, less savings and weaker services. It’s not a Stronger Somerset; it’s a Weaker Reality.”
The final One Somerset business case has now been submitted to Government and the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government will decide what happens next. He is expected to consult formally on the proposal early next year before making a decision on the preferred proposal later in the year. The timescales are set by Government.
To find out more about One Somerset, read the business case or get in touch, please visit www.onesomerset.org.uk. You can stay up to date with progress on Twitter @One1Somerset and on Facebook @OneSomerset.