One Somerset is the proposal to replace the existing five councils with a single council for the county. The Government is currently considering changes to the system of local councils in Somerset. This is a chance to replace the outdated structure of five councils with a new single council. This One Somerset approach would put an end to confusion for residents, give greater powers to local communities, and free up millions of pounds in back office duplication that can be reinvested in frontline services.
It matters because residents and businesses rely on councils for a wide range of around 350 important services from schools and caring for vulnerable children, to care for the elderly, libraries, roads, bins and waste disposal. At the moment, the county council provides around 80% of council services in Somerset by cost.
So, it really matters that you have cost-effective and accountable services provided in the most efficient way. It’s important that you get involved and have your say on how these will be provided in future.
Services are split between the two. Also, city, town and parish councils also have responsibilities – for example Frome Town Council looks after the town’s parks and green spaces, provides community grants and makes recommendations to the district planning authority.
District councils collect waste while the county council disposes of it. Districts sweep the streets, but the county council looks after the roads. Districts adapt vulnerable people’s homes, while the county council helps those people live happily at home for as long as possible.
Under a unitary authority these services would all be delivered by the same council. If there was more than one unitary, all the county council’s functions would need to be split and duplicated.
Somerset County Council already provides services at a very local level. We work with people in their own homes through our social care, we work in schools. We make sure your local roads are repaired regularly and we work closely with local businesses. We work with foster carers and make sure they are supported.
One Somerset – the new, single council, would build on that expertise and knowledge. We want local services delivered locally by people who understand their areas – and live in those areas.
One Somerset will see Local Community Networks (LCNs) developed to make sure our commitment to working closely with all our communities is delivered. Between 15 and 20 LCNs will be formed made up of community and business groups, town and parish councils and representatives from other local groups and public services, including local councillors, police, health and education. These LCNs will reflect the natural geographical communities of Somerset.
They will be boards with real decision-making powers while providing strong local community leadership. For more information and examples of how this works in practice, please see our Business case.
We also want to work even more closely with city, town and parish councils. Please see the next question.
These very local councils, close to their communities, will play an important role. They would be able to take on service responsibilities and assets where they want to. Assets might include green spaces, buildings, sports facilities, markets and other local properties. Services might include car parks, extended street cleaning, tourist information, leisure. For a full list of potential services and assets please see page 76 of our business case
One Somerset would also enable a Town Council for Taunton to be created. At present Taunton is the only town in Somerset without its own parish council.
The five councils in Somerset have agreed a plan for Somerset to go carbon neutral by 2030. Some of the key actions in the Strategy to tackle carbon emissions include:
Developing an energy plan for Somerset with energy suppliers to ensure our future energy demands can be supported
Developing an electric vehicle strategy for Somerset
Improving walking, cycling and public transport infrastructure
Improving resilience to climate change impact such as flooding
Working with businesses and residents to reduce their own emissions
Caring for the environment is everyone’s responsibility. One Somerset will be able to build on the partnership work that has been achieved and provide a strong, unified voice to make sure Somerset can tap into the funding needed to achieve the ambitious aims.
No, absolutely not. Somerset County Council already has staff based in hubs and offices across the whole of Somerset. It has more staff working in communities than our district colleagues. There are libraries in towns and villages so there are already many staff working in towns and villages. The pandemic has shown how technology can be used to make sure staff can work effectively outside the traditional office environment and link with communities.
Somerset County Council has submitted its proposal for One Somerset – the single council, to the Government.
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 consultation is expected to end just before Easter this year. The Government will then weigh up all the information and could make a decision in the summer. Once a decision has been made, we will be able to provide a definitive timeline. The timescales are set by the Government.
Single councils are everywhere. Just look around the borders of Somerset and you will see Dorset, Wiltshire, Bath and North East Somerset, North Somerset, Bristol, Torbay, Plymouth and Cornwall. And there are loads of others around the country.
A single authority for Somerset will mean we will have a single powerful voice when lobbying government for more funding for our residents. All the unitaries around us get extra money for major projects like roads – Somerset must not be left behind.
A single Authority for Somerset will save £18.5m in the first year – and each and every year after that – a massive saving that we can spend on better services for you. This is money which can be reinvested into vital frontline services in your neighbourhood. We also know there will be costs in setting up the Authority – this will be a one-off cost of £16.5m. We want to hear from you about where you think this unitary dividend should be spent – perhaps climate change, better transport, more social housing? You can contact us here: email@example.com
Unitary councils have a great record on delivering promised savings (see the EY report for the CCN, 2016). Our detailed business case sets out exactly where these savings will be delivered. In many instances, savings have exceeded forecasts (Cornwall and Wiltshire are local examples) – we are confident that will be the case here in Somerset too.
Somerset County Council has just published its annual report with incredibly healthy finances. Savings reserves are high, and costs have been managed to within budget. In addition, some income dependant District Councils are really feeling the financial pinch following the unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic and the County Council has already offered to assist with their ongoing cash flow challenges.
At the moment, county and district council services are run from remote headquarters buildings in Taunton, Bridgwater, Shepton Mallet and out-of-town Yeovil. A single council for Somerset proposes ultra-local community involvement in decisions, with parish, town and city councils having more of a say and will free up funding for local people and local needs. It’s interesting to note that more Somerset County Council staff work in each district than the district councils themselves employ – not many people know that!
A single council in Somerset would be similar in size to the many other county unitaries across the country and our neighbours Dorset and Wiltshire. The proposal for One Somerset is also the only option which meets the government criteria which states that any new unitary authority must be between 300-600,000 people. With a population of 560,000 it would not be possible to split Somerset into two unitaries – both would be under the minimum population specified by the Secretary of State and the western unitary (assuming an east-west split) would have levels of deprivation over twice that in the east. This size and pressure on services makes them financially unsustainable. We will ensure decision making remains local using the LCN model set out above.
The savings of £18.5m each and every year are consistent with the business case levels made by other county unitaries (Cornwall, Wiltshire, Dorset, Buckinghamshire). These include only the initial savings and not the significant savings of many millions of pounds which can be realised over the coming years through transformation, improvement and reform.
The One Somerset model will remove an unnecessary layer of government and reduce the number of councillors, fifty percent of whom are both county and district councillors. There will still be similar levels of electors per elected member as in other unitary counties (4,302 electors per member).
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