Somerset County Council is calling on residents and businesses to get behind its ambitious plans for a new model of local government which offers improved public services for all.
Today the government has begun a public consultation into changing the way local councils work in Somerset. It gives everyone the chance to have their say on setting up a unitary council approach – scrapping all five councils in the county and creating a new and better way of working. The Government has also deferred the Council County elections that were due to be held in May.
One Somerset is the County Council’s ambition to replace the county’s five existing councils with a simple, single unitary model. This would end confusion for residents, remove waste and duplication, and free up funding to invest in vital public services. It would offer more powers for local communities and give Somerset one strong voice to lobby for funding and support the county’s recovery from coronavirus.
This proposal already has widespread support from Somerset MPs, health organisations and the Police and Crime Commissioner, along with residents and business leaders.
Now Cllr David Fothergill, Leader of Somerset County Council, is calling for everyone to support the plans and help shape the future for Somerset.
“This is a fantastic, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us to improve public services for everyone in Somerset,” he said. “No more waste and duplication, no more confusion over who does what, just one strong, modern council, listening to the needs of Somerset’s residents and delivering what matters most for them.
“It is now clear that staying the same is not an option. This means a simple choice between our ambitious vision or the Stronger Somerset idea, which would see the county split in half with two rival halves competing for the same resources. They want to add additional layers of bureaucracy and keep the waste and confusion.
“I strongly encourage all residents, organisations and businesses to get behind One Somerset and make sure the Government hears your voice.”
One Somerset offers:
- Annual savings of £18.5m to be reinvested into front line services.
- Single point of contact (telephone, website, councillor) for all local government services.
- Genuine powers given to town and parish councils and the creation of Local Community Networks to shape and lead local services across Somerset.
- Making it easier to work with the NHS, police and others by getting rid of administrative boundaries
- Integrating services currently delivered by different councils, like housing, planning and care.
- One strong voice to secure government funding to support the pandemic recovery and attract new investment.
Somerset County Council has made a series of commitments to deliver what matters most to the public. These are the One Somerset pledges:
- 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.
- 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.
One Somerset has widespread support from key partners including:
Rebecca Pow, MP for Taunton Deane: “I am a strong supporter of a single council for Somerset because I believe it would bring significant and tangible benefits to residents and businesses across the County. Having one council responsible for all local government services would end the current confusion, waste and duplication of a two-tier system; it would build on lessons learned over the last year in dealing with the pandemic where it was clearly demonstrated that better aligning public services ultimately delivers better services and value for money, something that is important for my constituents. Local hubs to ensure local people are fully linked up and served across all parts of Somerset will need to be an integral part of the overall strategy of a unitary authority so that local identities are retained. I believe it’s a win, win for Somerset and I would encourage anyone who wants the best possible public services to support a single council approach.”
Marcus Fysh, MP for Yeovil: “I strongly believe that a single unitary authority to replace the county council and the four district councils in the county is the best option for the future.”
David Warburton, MP for Somerton and Frome: “Having spent a great deal of time over the last few months examining the differing proposals, engaging with local elected officials, talking to colleagues in Government and hearing the views of countless constituents, I’m delighted to give the One Somerset vision my support. A single unitary authority will ensure that local people can engage directly with those making decisions on their behalf and hold them accountable. Precedents from elsewhere (including neighbouring Wiltshire) show that engagement with individual communities will remain an indispensable part of the new unitary authority, and I’ll continue to work with Somerset County Council and Ministers to ensure these proposals reflect the best interests of all my constituents.”
Sue Mountstevens, Avon and Somerset Police and Crime Commissioner: “A single council will bring greater clarity to residents who often tell me that there is confusion. A unitary authority will have a much better overview of bringing economic wellbeing to our county.”
What others are saying about single unitary councils:
“The benefits of a single council, delivering all of the county and district services should not be underestimated. One council reduces the cost of service delivery allowing you to invest more in front-line services, one council gives you a quicker response to business as usual and in an emergency. One council gives a louder, single voice for your area to secure resources and make a difference. One council engaging with Government, making your voice heard.” Cllr Spencer Flower, Leader of Dorset Council (moved to single council in 2019)
“It is absolutely clear to me that the creation of the new Buckinghamshire Council was the correct decision by Government and has been a success. It has also strengthened our sense of place creating the ability to provide strong direction and partnership to our colleagues in the NHS, Fire, Police and voluntary sector” Cllr Martin Tett, Leader of Buckinghamshire Council (moved to a single council in 2020)
A final decision on which proposal will go forward to implementation is expected to be taken by Government in summer 2021, with any new authority starting in 2023.
The consultation period will run for 8 weeks until Monday 19 April. Those responding may do so on the department’s online platform ‘Citizen Space’ or by email or post.
To take part in the Government’s consultation and have your say, please visit https://consult.communities.gov.uk/governance-reform-and-democracy/somerset/ .
For more information about One Somerset, to sign up for e-newsletters or to pledge your support, please visit www.onesomerset.org.uk. You can stay up to date with progress on Twitter @One1Somerset and on Facebook @OneSomerset.