Somerset 1 or Two Somerset’s

After yesterday’s rush of District Council meetings, we now have two proposals for the future of local government in Somerset. From The Leveller®’s point of view, this is broadly good news. The District Councils have come up with a proposal for two unitary authorities for Somerset. Somerset County Council (SCC) has recommended one unitary for the whole area.

We believe in, we have campaigned for, a unitary solution. With two unitary alternatives on the table, we consider this to be a success. The question now is how to choose. The democratic issue is the subject of a lengthy piece in the September Leveller® so we need not dwell on it here.

Suffice it to say that we have something of a comic situation within Somerset. Following last night’s meetings in Taunton, Yeovil and Shepton Mallet, all District Councils have now voted in favour of the District Council proposal. Equally, back in July, SCC voted in favour of the SCC solution.

No doubt this is part of due process. But all we have proved so far is that turkeys do not vote for Christmas. Each party has dutifully voted in favour of its own preferred solution. The county council represents the whole of Somerset (as defined by the SCC area) at one level. The four districts do so equally at another.

So we are at an impasse. It is also the case that as yet neither Districts nor County have been invited to submit their solutions and business cases by the Minister. That process has also been delayed. Simon Clarke was Minister of State at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government at the start of the process. He was replaced by Luke Hall, MP for Thornbury & Yate, in South Gloucestershire on 8 September.

Once the new Minister gets his feet under the desk, we can expect the process to move forwards. Until then we have reached something of an impasse.

The Leveller® will be running a piece to assess the relative merits of the two cases in our October edition.


  • The District Councils are only looking after themselves, not the Somerset public. A Unitary by definition means one not two (bi for 2 or tri for 3). The public want their money spent on services not 2 Chief Executives and duplication of all senior officers. A single Unitary means lower burocratic costs and more spent on services.

  • In addition to two management teams and over 200 councillors, two unitaries would each need the many managers and staff to provide the complex social and children’s care services, health services, education and families services, roads and transport at present provided by our single county council. 46 SWT councillors voted to duplicate these services by voting for their Stronger Somerset proposal. They would, wouldn’t they!

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