Councils call for a referendum

The four district councils of Somerset today called for a referendum. The idea they propose is to have a referendum on the future of local government in Somerset. The choice would be between One Somerset or Stronger Somerset. this will be a disappointment to a number of LibDem councillors in South Somerset who have been promoting “no change” as an option.

It is a pity nobody thought of this earlier. The ideal time for a referendum would be to hold it on the same day as the Police & crime Commissioner elections. This would save money (no surprise that wasn’t part of the equation) and also allow for a full democratic process.

Why this option is not being considered is not entirely clear. Votes could then be cast in person.

The Leveller suspects that this is because the districts didn’t decide to push for a referendum until the 11th hour. Why did they not make this move two months ago? Then there would have been plenty of time to add the referendum to the 6 May ballot.

Instead we have a muddle of a proposal that suggests the local referendum would be open for 3 weeks. It would commence on 7 May and close on 28 May. Voting would be by post or online and the poll would be run independent of the local councils. It is recommended that it would be run by Civica Electoral Services (formerly Electoral Reform Services). 

This is neither a referendum, that simply requires a one day vote, nor a consultation. It is hard to see a logic for a format where you can cast your vote while the debate still rages on around you for a further 3 weeks.

The Leveller supports a proper referendum on the future of our local government. It does not support this ill thought through muddle.


  • The comments coming from South Somerset seem to be a panic
    Since the Libdems agreed to a Unitary Authority, fifteen years ago.

  • Ian Liddell-Grainger MP

    The reason why a referendum cannot be held on the same date as elections for the Police and Crime Commissioner is purely legal. The PCC covers an area which extends beyond the borders of the District councils and the County Council. If elections to the County Council had taken place in May as they were due to do, then a referendum would have been allowed. As to the assertion that other questions have been deliberately excluded from the referendum this is also a fallacy. Referendums can only offer a yes/no question based on the two existing proposals. But if the Secretary of State was to suggest that he would also examine a solution covering the whole area of historic Sonerset then I believe the Districts would happily agree.

    • Our apologies. Of course you are right and we missed that link out of our piece.
      It doesn’t actually changes the point we were making.
      Had the district councils pushed for this 2 months ago, this would have all been possible with S of S able to do the necessary.
      Had they pushed earlier still, the S of S might have been minded not to cancel the County Council elections.
      The problem here, which our article alludes to, is the last minute Damascene conversion to the cause of a referendum.
      Various people have called for one over the past year and always been rebuffed by the districts and in the interests of fairness, by the county too.

      • Ian Liddell-Grainger MP

        Unfortunately your response to my comment contains some new inaccuracies. The Districts have pushed hard for a referendum throughout. I argued the case publicly, as I previously argued when the forced marriage of Taunton Deane with West Somerset was proposed. Instead then, as now, the Government preferred to abide by the vague wording of a new act of Parliament which only requires that there should be some element of public support for any proposal. There is no longer a legal requirement to hold a referendum and, sadly, this government seems to believe that online consultation surveys are the answer despite the fact that they are open to widespread abuse and may be completed by anyone anywhere in the world. The Districts hoped that the government might relent in this case. It didn’t happen. So a proper vote is now coming.

      • You may feel this government is out of touch and has flawed ideas (we agree with you) – but you got elected on their ticket.
        You may well have argued strongly for a referendum. We don’t dispute your consistency. We agree with you on both issues.
        The fact that you argued for a referendum is not the same as the districts doing so.
        The government announced consultations on 22 February.
        The postponement of county council elections was announced on 24 February.
        Today on the 6 April, they announce a sudden desire to have a referendum. We get all council press releases at Leveller Towers and a referendum was not mentioned once between 22 February and this morning.
        And the fact remains a 3 week long referendum is deeply flawed and far worse than a one day poll – whenever that poll is held.

  • Have we not learned? A referendum promotes a We Won/ You Lost situation, with a decision made by force of numbers rather than by consideration of the issues and options and consequences. There is an established procedure for local government reorganisation: you can make your points during consultation. If they have force they will be taken into account, and decisions taken by elected and informed representatives.

  • Graham Pritchard

    Even if this was to be a fair and legitimate referendum, Lib Dems will only respect the result if they win.
    After showing such contempt for the electorate over Brexit do they really think we will trust them again?

  • Your comment “if they win” perfectly illustrates my point about referendums: they are not a game like football or poker to be won or lost, but a serious matter of public policy to be decided in everyone’s best interests.

  • The Stronger Somerset proposal to replace five existing councils with five new organisations would surely be the biggest ever experiment with council services and bound to fail with losses far greater than Southwest One.
    Monopolies are normally regulated by price in the UK, but democracy has proved to be a very poor regulator of council services under our Leader and Cabinet method. Citizens are unable to focus on costs when voting. I think councils should be required to publish common formatted Key Performance Indicators like Wiltshire Council so that voters can see how their council services management performs in comparison to the most efficient councils.

  • pauljohnsellers

    Nobody really wants reorganistaion – drop the houstile takeover bids and get on with delivering public services please.

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