Somerset consults – no referendum
If the Prime Minister is considering a reshuffle in the summer, he will have plenty of options. One would be to promote the MP for Bridgwater and West Somerset to Minister for Unitary Authorities. Mr Liddell Grainger has taken to asking lots and lost of questions on the subject. This is in addition to his interventions on the subject on the floor of the House of Commons. Recent questions include:
To ask the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, what checks, beyond providing a valid email address, his Department is using to ensure that respondents to the Somerset Unitarisation consultation are genuine residents of Somerset.
To ask the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government whether people resident abroad are eligible to respond to the Somerset Unitarisation consultation.
To ask the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government whether respondees to the Somerset Unitarisation consultation are required to have reached voting age.
To ask the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government what steps he has taken to stop multiple applications being submitted improperly to the Somerset Unitarisation consultation.
To ask the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government if he will include a requirement for respondents to the Somerset unitarisation consultation to declare employment by any local authority subject to that consultation.
That’s quite a lot of questions. The Secretary of State wasn’t much interested. So he got a junior colleague, Luke Hall, Minister of State at the Department to answer for him. It has of course elicited the response we all understood we would get. It is not in any way a scientific assessment of the views of Somerset. It is an enabling device by Government to do whatever it was they always intended to do anyway.
But what the Minister actually said was this: “The Department welcomes the views of all those interested in the proposals, including local residents, town and parish councils, businesses and the voluntary sector. The process is not a poll or referendum, and hence there are no limitations on who is able to respond, nor is there a process of validating the details of respondents. Those responding to the consultation are asked to declare whether they are responding as a resident (and if so whether they are resident in the area concerned or elsewhere including overseas), or whether they are responding on behalf of an organisation. The Department’s online platform, Citizen Space, which is used widely across the public sector for consultation activities, requires a response to this question, and asks the name of any organisation on whose behalf a response is being made and the email address of the respondent; no further details about a respondent’s personal or family’s interests such as employment status are requested.“