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.


  • Democracy is worth paying for says a “Lib/dem” not noting the irony of their parties lack of respect for democracy in the Brexit referendum when they didn’t like the democratic result and tried everything to subvert democracy. Delicious irony and double standards.

    • How was the EU Referendum subverted, Nick old bean? Do tell. The People’s Vote movement campaigned for another democratic referendum, but they didn’t get their wish in the end. The Libs pledged to Stop Brexit if they won the 2019 General Election (not likely). What is undemocratic about any of that?

  • 5% of electors could never have petitioned for a “proper” (binding?) referendum in relation to the unitary issue.

    Binding referendums can only be called by 5% of the public if a council proposes to change its leadership model:

  • The consultation period has now closed on 19 April
    The government is aspected to make an announcement, concerning the Unitary Authority
    in July.
    Pity the district councils did not wake up two years ago

    • Excellent. The unitary poll would close at the start of June, just in time to inform the government’s decision!

  • Why do we need an expensive late poll to choose between Stronger Somerset which
    – will replace 5 existing councils with 5 new organisations including another Southwest One
    – will have two Unitary councils each smaller than the government requirement of 300,000

    and One Somerset which
    – matches the health service and social services area critical to integrating better support for an ageing population.
    – claims the big advantage over two unitaries of twice the annual transition savings, nearly four times the estimated five year savings and the shortest payback time.
    – gives the strongest voice for the county.

  • Oh yes, did I forget to mention independent accountants PWC’s report on Stronger Somerset?
    It questioned its assertions, financial analysis, unbalanced financial sustainability, operation and delivery model, lack of one voice for the county, too many councillors, suggestion of an unprecedented future combined authority and the risks of disaggregating services currently provided by the county council

  • I could see sense in the Councillor’s mantra that ‘democracy is worth paying for’ IF what the Districts were proposing was actually a binding referendum- it’s not. There’s also an inherent dishonesty in what the Districts are seeking to do because let’s not forget their plan is not is also to completely change local government in Somerset. Despite what individual Councillors may try and say that there is a status quo option, the Districts are also advocating a move to Unitary authorities. I don’t recall them ever asking the electorate whether they wanted a Unitary authority via a referendum so that seems to be a question they’re more than happy to have pursued without popular consent. No, this is all about them claiming that the whatever decision the Secretary of State comes to (unless it’s their own) was foisted on the people, against their wishes and they’re happy to waste £1m+ of taxpayers money on a PR exercise and it’s shameful.

  • This website stinks of liberalism. Is it not meant to be impartial?

  • pauljohnsellers

    If there weree to be a referndum, then there should be a “no-cahnge” option. Nobody really wants local government reorganistaion, whihc inevitably costs us more and brings severakl years of chais. TheCounty conservatives and District LibDems should drop their hostile rakeover bids and simplky get on with delivering public servies…..that’s waht we really want!

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