Somerset Districts – nothing to see here

The Leaders of the four Somerset Districts have written to the Secretary of State, in response to his criticism of their poll. The full letter is attached at the bottom of this piece. Essentially the letter distances the districts from responsibility for the conduct of the poll. Referring to the solicitors used, the nearest we get to an apology is grudging at best. “Whilst we accept we are responsible for sending this information out, we did not exercise editorial control over the leaflet to ensure impartiality.”

If the Secretary of State was expecting some expression of contrition or reflection, he will have been disappointed. The letter appears to show more interest in attacking Somerset County Council (SCC). We can hardly complain about that, apart from saying that’s our job and we humbly submit that we are rather better at it. However that said, the letter seems to substantially miss the point.

The District Leaders have gone to great lengths to talk about taking down the spoof website. It is not clear to us why it should be taken down. It is satire. It is perhaps unkind. Satire usually is. The fault is not that a satirical website exists. The fault is that a leaflet produced by the poll team includes a reference to the spoof website. Suggestions that the site be taken down are, we suggest, a red herring. Arguing for democracy with one hand and the elimination of freedom of expression with the other is a strange look.

There is also something of a dissonance in the way the districts seek to blame SCC for not checking the leaflet. For their own part, they tell us they have had no involvement in the leaflet for Stronger Somerset. So we ask this question. If the districts had no involvement in checking their leaflet, why did they expect SCC to check theirs? Does that not sound like double standards. We are repeatedly told the whole point of using a law firm was to avoid bias. So why was one team expected to check their leaflet, when the other did not?

Of more concern is a continued failure to either acknowledge or apologise for the failure to mail ballots on time. The poll was supposed to start on 18 May. Ballots were sent our second class on the afternoon of 18 May. Several residents contacted The Leveller telling us they received their on either 24 or 25 May. So some residents have 2 weeks to weigh up the options and other have three. We ask how is that a fair and reasoned approach to the poll?

We have also asked a number of questions directly of SSDC about the poll – all of which remain unanswered. They are:

  • How much did the four district councils agree to pay the law firm who drafted the leaflets?
  • As the process was, we are told fully independent, then only the law firm can be responsible for the error. So will the district councils still be paying for the services of the law firm?
  • Will they now seek compensation for damage to reputation from that law firm?
  • And if not, then why not?

Neither side has enhanced their reputation during in this debate. The truth is that the reputation of local government in Somerset is at an all time low. Poll or no poll, we suspect a reformed local government with some new faces would be welcome by residents.

17 comments

  • Completely agree, they’ve made us look like a bunch of straw chewing inbreds. Can’t see any way back for these District Councils now.

    • Somerset Smithy

      The best way to protest at the waste of money, the incompetence and the ridiculous proposal to break up Somerset is to vote for One Somerset.

      And encourage family and friends to do the same.

    • I agree. The response from the Districts is bizarre. In particular I was surprised by their insistence that they are not proposing to create 5 organisations. Having read both bids before responding to the consultation it is very clearly stated in the “Stronger Somerset” bid (alongside the unprofessional mud slinging) that this is the case. Either the District Council leaders haven’t read their own bid or they think we are stupid.

  • A disingenuous reply from the 4 district councils.
    Until all the votes for each option can be counted nobody knows if there has been an “impact” on the poll.
    Unless Stronger Somerset gets both more votes than One Somerset and that excess of votes is greater than the number of views to the spoof website then there has clearly been a meaningful “impact” and the council tax will have been doubly wasted on a flawed “advisory” poll.

    • To be fair it’s totally flawed anyway.

      Funded and timed by those who want to break up Somerset; held after the close of the consultation period and no input from One Somerset who do not wish to condone or support the waste of public money in any way.

      It’s a bit like an election a totalitarian one party state.

      • Correction:

        It’s a bit like an election in a totalitarian one party state.

  • Should we not have been asked if we wanted a Unitary in the first instance? Everyone fighting over the two choices while forgetting that this is exactly what the Conservatives wanted. RIP democracy.

  • Then District Councils insistence on trying to blame SCC for not proof reading amounts the same logic as punching someone in the face and then blaming them for not getting out of the way of your fist. Trying to absolve themselves of all responsibility is scandalous!

  • Arthur Richards

    The more the detractors resist the stronger is the argument for this poll. I’m glad it’s going ahead. I’m glad I’ll get my say, instead of the crooked politicians ruling over us from their offices in London.

    • You could have had your say in the government consultation, I’m glad you think this crooked poll will have any bearing on ‘crooked’ politicians in London. The use of words like detractors is worrying, this is why binary polls should be used in exceptional circumstances, it causes division which could have detrimental impact on communities and let’s be clear this entire poll idea was to sow the seeds of division. The whole purpose of this poll is so that when the decisions is made, one side can justify why they feel aggrieved.

      Watching this fiasco unfold has been interesting, not least because those who say they are defenders of democracy were quick to defend why it’s ok to ignore something which brings it into question. It was after all a District Leader, speaking on behalf of all of the Leaders who said the website was an ‘affront to democracy’ now if you believe in democracy, then you believe it should be fair.. This whole debacle shows that the poll was not fair.I think anyone who defends it should think very carefully before brushing it off – if this was the other way around you know exactly how you would act so I think leave it at that.

      • Arthur Richards

        I DID have my say in the government consultation. I subsequently found out that it is entirely unfit for purpose. When I heard you could fill it in multiple times I thought “no, that CANNOT be true”… so I tested it, and it IS true. I filled it in about 5 or 6 times. I got a friend in the US to fill it in too. Total joke.

        One of the criteria for choosing between 1 or 2 unitary councils is strong local support. How on EARTH could that consultation ever be a valid demonstration of local support?

        The people are having a vote and of that I am glad.

  • Well in the first instance, you were asked for your address so unless you either left it blank or put in a fake address then the idea that it’s invalid because you can fill it in multiple times is a straw man, it’s meaningless. Anyone who wanted to seriously put their views forward would have made their submission in their own name using their address. I hope your friend in the US felt it was a good use of their time. Second, the consultation is not just used to determine public support, if you read the guidance on this then you will see that public support is only one of number of criteria that must be taken holistically. As the Secretary of State noted in his first letter to the Districts ,it’s perfectly conceivable that both business cases can carry public support, it’s not a race and not a popularity contest. I’m glad you’re happy that a rigged and unfair poll give you the peace of mind you need, because I can already tell what your posts will say when the Secretary of State makes his decision if it goes against your preference.

    • Arthur Richards

      If the people of Somerset vote for a super council running everything in Taunton, then so be it. I don’t see the point in excluding the people who live in the county from having a say.

      • Hopefully whatever the decision we will have a super council.

        However there is no plan to run everything from Taunton, that is a complete misrepresentation and/or misunderstanding.

        The plan is for more decisions to be made much more locally than is currently the case.

        Frome is by far the largest town in the Mendip District (and the 4th largest in Somerset) – but many decisions are made by councillors from Wells, Glastonbury, Street, etc who barely know the town.

        Looking forward to power being returned to our town that was taken away in the restructure and creation of large artificial districts in the early 1970s

      • Now I know for certain your motivation is purely political Arthur, the truth is you don’t care about the people of this great County, you don’t care that millions are wasted each year on CEO’s senior staff and back office contracts. You don’t care that the high streets are on their knees because our Districts are too busy putting money into vanity projects and pointless polls. You don’t care that there are brownfield sites in our towns that are left to rot because our Districts won’t think strategically, you don’t care there are over 300 councillors a number of whom do absolutely nothing for their allowance, you don’t care that the whole Stronger Somerset case is a sham just so that the Liberal Democrat party can put in their election literature that local government reform was ‘forced’ on our communities when they themselves advocated it and they demanded a ‘referendum’ when this poll is nothing of the sort. Finally you don’t care that the public are being lied to because if you cared about any of those things, you wouldn’t parrot these lies over and over again. A One Somerset Council will not be run from Taunton, in the same way Dorset isn’t run from Dorchester or Cornwall isn’t run from St Austell or Wiltshire isn’t run from Salisbury. If you read the One Somerset business case you would see that there is no intention of centralising everything in Taunton, it’s impossible and that’s why One Somerset talks about establishing the Local Community Networks. LCN’s are not new they’re not some idea plucked out of thin air, they exist in every County Unitary in the Country.

  • The reply from the districts is unbelievable. They are still behaving like ostriches. It is not the issue about the who owns the website, we all know the member of Parliament for Bridgwater and west Somerset is behind that. This is about the fact that they (the district leaders and CEO) failed in there responsibly the ensure that all the information provided to voters was correct and not list leading. The CEO have fail to ensure that the poll is unbiased and the poll should know be stopped. I have read reports that in total the have spend over £500,000 on this project including the £300,000 to the polling company CIVICA. I also find it quite unbelievable that they have failed to apologise for sending voters to what is a sexist website.

  • The poll is too open to fraud to be relied upon; any household or family member or guardian who picks up the mail is able to vote as someone else …. so we will have votes being cast for people who do not wish to vote themselves or are unable to vote. The organisation of this and the lack of public awareness enables voter fraud.

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