Stronger Somerset – McGinty plea
Writing a final plea to the Minister for Communities and Housing, published by online magazine Public Finance, Duncan McGinty, Sedgemoor Leader, wrote “Achieving sustainability requires finding more efficient ways to operate – reducing replication in, and modernising, enabling services for example.”
There is much to admire in the proposal for two unitaries. Certainly the greater degree of localism is appealing. As is the idea that reform should be as important as restructure alone. Albeit that is something that Somerset County Council (SCC) Leader David Fothergill would agree with, and includes in his rival “One Somerset” proposal.
Mr McGinty went on to outline where reform could show benefits suggesting:
– data to enable us to target resources where most needed;
– early intervention and work on wider determinants of health and wellbeing to prevent dependency on expensive ‘crisis’ services;
– innovative approaches in adults’ and children’s services;
– locally led solutions to reduce demand on services.
Yet in his lengthy piece defending the plans, there were two substantial absentees. We at The Leveller® did not find these absences surprising. We consider they are the black holes in the Stronger Somerset proposals:
- The plan to create not just two unitary authorities, but also a kind of SouthWestTwo, a back office services company that provides accounting, legal, HR and computing support to both councils. It is a bizarre idea. It seems to imply that while on the one hand the Stronger Somerset proposals want two unitary authorities, they acknowledge that they cannot get the economies of scale without being at the size of One Somerset.
- Likewise the creation of a children’s services organisation that covers both unitary authorities and is not run separately but jointly by the two unitary authorities. It has the same flaws.
And we don’t have to guess what the problems will be. After all we have already seen what can go wrong with these bodies. Think SouthWestOne, the disastrous combining of back office functions by SCC, Taunton Deane Borough Council and the Police. Think the Mendip five authority deal currently being broken up.
These supra authority bodies come with the same problems. Responsibility and authority will be opaque. Fine when all is well, but when things start to go wrong? As usual there will be arguments over whose fault it is, who has to pay to put it right and there will be big questions over accountability.
The big loss to the residents of Somerset is that there is no proposal for two genuinely independent unitary authorities. You must choose between a giant super authority – One Somerset, or the bugger’s muddle that is Stronger Somerset.