Greens say Yes and No to Unitary Somerset
To start we will as usual declare our interest. The Leveller supports and campaigns for a Unitary Council for Somerset. This is a council to replace the four districts and one county council. We also support the principle laid out in the Mel Usher report that much more local government should be devolved down to town and parish councils.
Today the Green Party in Somerset set out there own position. In essence this boils down to Unitary is not a bad idea, but not now. They conclude “As local councillors representing the Green Party in Somerset, we welcome the opportunity to review restructuring local government. We are particularly in favour of devolving power back to local communities. The current proposal for a Somerset-wide single unitary authority however, threatens to centralise power even more than at present, and pre-empts the Government’s intention to adopt unitary councils, nation-wide. We believe a wider range of more suitable options may be available if this decision is deferred until the proposed Government White Paper is published.“
As an alternative they propose that if something has to be done now, “given the Government’s decree that each authority must be a minimum 400,000 in population, an alternative would be for Mendip and South Somerset districts to combine with the current unitary council of Bath and North East Somerset (BANES).”
There are two objections to this. Firstly the requirement from government is that a unitary should be 300,000 not 400,000 as stated. Secondly BANES has made it very clear it is not interested in a merger with Mendip or SSDC. BANES is committed to joining a Bristol super authority. Even if Mendip and/or SSDC joined BANES in that enterprise, it would rather defeat the argument. If you don’t want to be governed by Taunton because it is too remote from Frome or Yeovil, being governed instead from Bristol is an illogical solution to the problem.
As a secondary issue, it would unite the two Somerset Districts with the heaviest exposure in investment property in one new council. That council would start with a significant financial exposure to property that could very quickly impact on service delivery.