The Leveller® has taken quite a lot of abuse for taking a consistent stand in favour of a Unitary Council for Somerset. Our leader article in the August edition which we publish tomorrow, explains just one reason why we feel this solution is inevitable.
This evening however we have been rather overtaken by events. We understand the district councils have abandoned their “principled stand” against a unitary authority.
It is almost certainly, the sound of reality biting. It has become very clear that central government favours unitary authorities as the way forward. It is also becoming clear that those authorities that go the unitary route are likely to benefit from better funding settlements than those that do not.
The four district councils have accepted that a unitary authority is the right way forward. This follows a meeting with the Local Government Minister, Simon Clarke.
It appears that they will express a preference for two unitaries. A western one comprising Somerset West & Taunton merged with Sedgemoor. And an eastern one comprising Mendip and South Somerset. To be honest that is a matter of detail. The key thing is that the principle of a unitary authority being the best way forward has been accepted.
The districts will now present their own business case to central government between early September and Mid-September 2020.
This is quite a turn around. As recently as last week district councils were telling us a unitary solution was the worst option of all those being considered.
A timetable has already been discussed with the minister that is likely to be along the lines of:
- an eight week public consultation period – details as yet unknown
- a decision would be expected in the early new year to Spring 2021
- legals to be in place for a shadow authority / authorities for April 2021
- New authority / authorities in place by April 2022
Making the best of a bad job the district councils will be asserting that their case is not about finding savings; it’s about finding a better way of meeting the needs of our places and people. It still does not occur to district authorities that one of the ways they could do that is to reduce wasteful administration and provide more services with the saving from reduced overheads.
But for now this is a detail. The argument appears to have been won.