Is the proposal likely to improve local government and service delivery across the area? Specifically, is it likely to improve council services, will it give greater value for money, generate savings, provide stronger strategic and local leadership and create more sustainable structures?
How a single unitary council (One Somerset) would satisfy this point:
In summary, we believe that on every test, a single council will deliver significant benefits, including:
- End the current confusion and mess that having five councils creates.
- Cut red tape and the wasting of tax-payers money.
- Generate greater and quicker savings that can reinvested back into public services.
- Create new local opportunities for residents to have a real say about their own community.
- Create one council listening to the needs and concerns of residents, parishes and businesses, providing clear accountability to the public.
- Create greater opportunities for local businesses to grow and prosper.
- Delivery of outstanding public services to improve the quality of life of all our residents and businesses.
- Give a much stronger voice for Somerset on a regional, national and international stage.
One Somerset would replace the existing 5 councils with a single council for Somerset delivering major savings, better value for money, improved local services, increased powers for local communities and a stronger voice for the people of Somerset.
A single council will improve local government and public service delivery across the area by allowing us to join up and deliver local services, creating greater value for money and providing stronger strategic and local leadership with sustainable structures. It would end the artificial and needless administrative boundaries and a single council approach has worked well in other places that have adopted it in recent years.
Moving to a single council for Somerset would generate £52m over five years in savings or £18.5m per annum. That’s just the basic savings – there is then huge scope to transform how the new council will work with millions more to be freed up. That’s a significant amount that could mean, for example, council tax is kept to an absolute minimum and that savings are reinvested into front line services tackling the real local issues and challenges.
The proposal addresses the wider context around promoting economic recovery and growth across the Somerset and contributing to the ‘levelling up’ agenda of creating new opportunities, boosting skills and jobs, and community recovery following the pandemic.
On establishing a single council in Somerset, PwC concluded in an independent report, that: “establishing a single unitary council in Somerset would be more likely to improve local government in the area and would serve a more credible geography – a single unitary would have the advantages of scale, deliver a greater level of financial saving, would cover a recognised geography and serve a population within the range specified by the Secretary of State.” (PwC, report February 2021)
How the Stronger Somerset proposal (2 separate east/west unitary authorities, a separate vehicle for the delivery of Children’s services, a shared services company and a combined authority) would fail this point:
Leading experts have expressed serious concerns around the alternative proposal, Stronger Somerset. This would split Somerset into two small, rival east/west unitaries whilst creating a separate ‘Alternative Delivery Model’ (ADM) for children’s services, a shared services company, and with the elected mayor/combined authority sitting over the top. Stronger Somerset would in effect replace the existing five authorities, each with their own staff and separate cultures, with, five organisations, each with their own staff, budgets and separate cultures. This approach also fails to take into consideration the financial or human cost of the increased complexity of this model.
Not only would this create confusion, but it would also disrupt existing services delivered on a county wide basis (notably care for vulnerable adults and children) whilst each east/west unitary would struggle to be able to exist, serving a population smaller than the figure government believes is a credible entity. This is below the Government’s stated criteria for local government reform around creating sustainable structures.
Independent reports conducted into Stronger Somerset raised concerns around the credibility and veracity of the claims made and of the evidence, financial modelling and data used in developing such proposals.
On Stronger Somerset’s proposals for adult social care, an independent report by Professor John Bolton, a leading expert on social care, comments: “The “Stronger Somerset” report is very misleading about the finances of social care and shows a lack of understanding of the way in which social care has had to operate in recent years.” (Bolton, Review of Stronger Somerset, February 2021)
On Stronger Somerset’s proposals for place services, an independent report by Neil Gibson former President of the Association of the Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning & Transportation (ADEPT) found: “Overall, the proposal is heavy on ambition and method for reform, but light on service delivery detail, evidence and impact. There are no significant references to how existing place services are currently delivered, what will change and how they will be delivered from 2023. There is no clear evidenced rationale in the proposal for their identification, no baseline data/facts underpinning their current status, nor any tangible indications of what better might look like as a consequence of the reforms proposed.” (Gibson, Review of Stronger Somerset, February 2021)
One Stronger Somerset’s proposals for children’s services, and independent report by Trevor Doughty, a Commissioner and advisor to the Department of Education, comments: “No evidence is provided by Stronger Somerset as to why the Alternative Delivery Model (ADM) will deliver its ambitions.” (Doughty, Review of Stronger Somerset Children’s Services Proposal February 2021)