Somerset Districts cry foul

Yesterday Secretary of State, Robert Jenrick announced he would back the One Somerset model. This will see one unitary authority replace the four district councils and county council in Somerset. or at least the bit of Somerset formerly run by Somerset County Council.

The reaction from the four district councils to the decision has been defiant. The Leveller® understands that anticipating the decision, plans for a judicial review were already being discussed. That may or may not transpire, but rest assured, it is taxpayers that will pick up the tab.

Among some of the more bizarre claims being made, relates to the way the decision was communicated. In an interview given to Bauer Radio, Duncan McGinty suggested others had been told first. Implying that the district councils had found out from the press.

By which he appears to be referring to articles put out by The Leveller® and BBC at around 7.00pm last night. The District Council statement was put out at 8pm. There is no mystery here. And no favouritism. We subscribe to the government press release service as do the BBC. We received the press release when it was released. As clearly did various people at County Hall. It is not hard to sign up to the press release service, perhaps the districts should give it a go?

In their own statement the districts said  “The Secretary of State is riding roughshod over the people of Somerset who voted 65% to 35% in favour of the Stronger Somerset plan over the other scheme chosen by the Secretary of State.” This will almost certainly form the basis of their judicial review if they go for it. Their statement suggests they are intent on spending more money defending their position. “We are duty bound to represent the interests of our constituents to our fullest ability. “We are duty bound to represent the interests of our constituents to our fullest ability. We will continue to seek to ensure that their voices are heard. There is still chance for Parliament to see sense and force a rethink. We just cannot understand why the wishes of the people of Somerset are being ignored.”  We will continue to seek to ensure that their voices are heard. There is still chance for Parliament to see sense and force a rethink. We just cannot understand why the wishes of the people of Somerset are being ignored.” 

The Leveller® may be seen as biased having campaigned for One Somerset. We make just two observations:

  • Just over 70,000 people voted for the district council solution (Stronger Somerset) in their poll. It was a poll in which one side campaigned and one didn’t. It was neither fair nor democratic. And yet still barely 10% of Somerset’s population chose Stronger Somerset. The districts have said they will “represent the interests of our constituents to our fullest ability.” It is not clear what they will be doing to represent the interests of their 470,000 constituents who did not vote for Stronger Somerset in the poll.
  • In 1974 when the district councils were created, no-one was consulted. Except parliament. Not a murmur then about the voice of the people, the need for polls or referendums. If the Secretary of State goes ahead with his plan, the creation and dissolution of this tier of local government will have been on the same basis.

7 comments

  • As a Somerset resident I certainly don’t want one more penny of my council tax wasted just because the councils are spitting their dummies out of the pram. Too much public money was wasted on that sham of a “poll” already which – as you say – was ignored by the majority of residents. Mine went straight in the recycling as I saw it for what it was.

  • I didn’t vote in the poll simply because I didn’t agree with either of the options presented.

    • I think I might have been more inclined to vote if they’d reverted to rural and urban district councils. Also not on the ballot.

  • The district council’s poll was patently a political move and as such I would like to see the councillors who supported it personally liable for the costs. To suggest a poll that was held after the closing date for considerations should carry any weight was equally preposterous. What I fear now is a spending spree at the district councils.

  • Typical that this lot now plans to squander even more council tax payers money on keeping their own remuneration (attendance allowance and expenses etc).

    Given that the ballot paper misrepresented the Stronger Somerset case as simply dividing the Local Government into two unitary authorities rather than one and made no reference to the 3 unelected organisations that option would necessitate, one cannot argue that the ballot process was without bias to the Stronger Somerset case.

    The link to a spoof website to the One Somerset case is small potatoes in the bias of the ballot process if the ballot paper itself was misleading.

  • The district councillors unitary poll was deceptive and unfair because it did not tell us how Stronger Somerset would duplicate county services in two unitary councils
    1 – The voter information leaflet stated that two unitary councils would be established to provide all services with up to 200 councillors
    2 – The Stronger Somerset Website under ‘Why Change’ stated that All residents will deal with either Western Somerset or Eastern Somerset for all of their services. Under ‘Stronger Services’ it stated that Stronger Somerset for Children will be jointly owned by Western and Eastern Somerset councils. ‘Stronger Partnerships’ contains a link to the full proposal where the enormous complexity of the proposal starts to be revealed
    3 – Full Proposal – 4.2.4 A shared enabling service. We will develop a shared enabling service to provide the business capabilities required to operate effectively. The individual councils will retain accountability for detailed decisions on their respective Target Operating Model but work through a shared reform programme design to maximise value from joint working during transition, manage development costs and maximise efficiencies. Legal, administrative and facilities are good examples of the types of functions that we cannot do without but where we can streamline expenditure to enable more resources to focus on delivering service outcomes.
    Without prejudging the detailed design, it is likely that each council will retain strategic aspects across enabling service functions such as finance, HR and procurement. Strategic marketing and communications and democratic services and investment /economic development are likely to be retained within individual councils as these are capabilities where the councils will want to differentiate from each other to reflect respective community priorities.
    Full Proposal – 4.2.5 Integrated working and place leadership
    Stronger Somerset will involve Western Somerset Council and Eastern Somerset Council developing a greater emphasis on integrated teams, not just within the councils but across public services.
    We will convene and align partner organisations and other stakeholders through our system leadership to better integrate efforts on creating the conditions in the system that enable more effective working. Reorganisation will become a catalyst for reforming how services are delivered, enabling a rethink that removes departmental and organisational siloes and introduces more holistic solutions.

    The shared enabling service looks like an impossibly complicated and unprecedented experiment .
    Only 88 words describe integrated working through partnership organisations which would be far more risky than Southwest One which had a £250m difference between prediction and outcome.

  • How can we tax payers prevent the dying local councils from wasting more of OUR money? Can we get this concern to Robert Jenrick?

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