Nimbyism v the greater good
As we reported earlier, the Report into the Future of Local Government published today by Somerset County Council makes a compelling case. It shows the savings that could be made by bringing forward a unitary authority. It should be a no brainer.
If you can save money and invest it in better services, why would you not do that?
The problem here is going to be vested interest. Recently the Districts have not wanted this to happen.
They would rather go through the “collaborative working” model. One which is unlikely to generate significant savings. Indeed although the report offers some hope, experience will tell the reader this is unlikely to happen.
The recent history of local authorities in the south west is littered with failed experiments in collaborative working like this. Most recently involving Mendip District Councils and three other authorities with no obvious geographical connection to Mendip. I hardly dare mention South West One.
Why not unitary?
As the Districts do not have to pay for social care costs a unitary authority is unattractive to their local interest. Because the savings made by coming together as a unitary will have to be spent on burgeoning social care costs.
And it is true that social care costs are a big drain on SCC. It is a burden that is not going to get any smaller. But it is an important service to the people of Somerset.
Especially in a county with an aging population. It is also true that since 2010 government has regularly promised to come up with a solution and regularly failed to do so. There is little to suggest a solution will arrive any time soon.
The unitary solution gives Somerset the opportunity to make savings and invest more in social care.
To date only SCC has come out in support of the unitary model.
The Districts are keeping their council. In a joint press release at lunchtime they state only that “We are now convinced that staying purely to our own paths is not an option and that we can collectively do better. Service needs across Somerset are evolving, demand is increasing, and a new collaborative delivery strategy is needed.”
This suggests a preference for working collaboratively rather than forming one new authority. The conclusion of the Future of Local Government Report published today clearly shows that they remain sceptical.
Later this afternoon they published a further statement which noted “The district councils do not believe a unitary council is right for Somerset because a Unitary Council would lead to…..” they then list a range of items which believe it or not “Millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money being spent on changing structures and paying for redundancies” I guess they should know. The two Somerset organisations that have both wasted millions on restructuring and redundancy are South Somerset and the merged Taunton Deane and West Somerset.
The fact that the District Councils would not be in charge of the restructuring (it would be the newly elected unitary authority) would surely increase the possibility of it being done effectively.
So the Districts have questions to answer.
Do they believe social care costs are not important?
Are they happy to let Somerset residents have a second rate social care system?
Do they or do they not have the interests of Somerset residents and their wellbeing at heart?
Or do they feel preserving their autonomy is more important than the well being of their residents?
It really is that basic.
But surely all councils in Somerset should have the best interests of all residents of Somerset at heart?
The Districts should champion a solution that stands to save money that can be spent on social care for the benefit of the people of Somerset. Are they seriously going to propose putting their own interests ahead of those of Somerset residents?
Or do they simply feel we should not spend more money on adult social care (or schools and highways for that matter)?
The District Councils now have to decide if they are part of the problem or part of the solution.