Somerset Councils try again
The four District Councils will try again to vote through a local poll on the future of local government in Somerset. All four councils will meet on 30 April and more or less simultaneously vote on the issue.
On 13 April, in advance of their last attempt to do this, their plans were derailed by the Secretary of State. Writing to each council he told them:
On the face of it, it is hard to see how this can represent value for money for the people of Somerset. You would have to account to your local taxpayers for whatever expense is incurred, and the consequences of that for your finances and delivery of local public services.”
“Were your councils to decide to go ahead with the exercise that you are now proposing, I would reiterate that in order to fulfil my published timetable the decision-taking process could be well advanced before you have any results from that exercise.”
He also suggested the certain aspects of the poll might not be legal. So the councils have taken legal representation from Queen’s Counsel. Not cheap, but essential in order to press ahead. Nevertheless the burden on the tax payer is growing. Then again, as one LibDem councillor suggested, democracy is worth paying for.
The Leveller® would agree. It is just that it could have cost a lot less. If for instance the councils had decided to hold a proper referendum, back in September 2020. A petition getting 5% of the population could have been organised. That could have led to a proper referendum under the Local Government Act. There would have been plenty of time. It could have been co-ordinated with the elections on 6 May. It might have persuaded the Secretary of State to hold County Council elections. Instead South Somerset District Council, which was leading this process, voted against a referendum.
So now we have a proposal to do everything at the last minute. The main problem going forward is that the whole timetable has slipped further back into June. So now the poll (it is still not a referendum) would run from the 18 May and end on 4 June. Which given the comments from the Secretary of State about the timetable, is interesting.