Somerset consultation flawed too

Ian Liddell Grainger has been waiting a long time for a response. But it has finally arrived. The MP for Bridgwater and Somerset West wanted to know the results of a government consultation. The one they ran on the future of local government in Somerset. The one that has led to Somerset going down the single unitary route.

The response, which The Leveller® has seen, is deeply unsatisfactory. There were some good bits. Although Mr Liddell Grainger claimed anyone from outside Somerset could take part, this didn’t happen. 94% of respondents were from Somerset.

However of those, individuals voted by a majority of 3,011 to 1,773 in favour of two unitary councils. That said the business and institutions that responded overwhelmingly backed the one unitary authority proposal. 88% of public service providers backed it and 72% of businesses.

That Government have given greater weight to institutions than the public is perhaps not surprising. But it also smacks of getting the answer they wanted. So now we can add a flawed Government consultation to a flawed poll.

Where do we go from here? The only honest way to resolve this would be to have a proper referendum. But that would waste even more public money. And open old wounds that are starting to heal with a new spirit of shared purpose. And it is doubtful that government would countenance it. A Judicial Review would also waste more public money and would be unlikely to succeed.

The Leveller® says:

This whole process has been, in the view from Leveller® Towers, unsatisfactory. Readers will recall that from early in 2020 we called for a proper referendum. Not something that would not have looked out of place in a banana republic. With one side taking part and the other not. But a proper referendum with debates, media coverage of the arguments and canvassing from both sides. Of course nobody really wanted that then.

An alternative would be to have no public engagement. Remember there was no democratic process that called the District Councils into existence. The authority that created the District Councils in the reforms in 1974 was from Parliament. Parliament could have decided the future of Somerset in the same way this time. It would have had a certain symmetry. After all Parliament is a democratically accountable body.

Instead we have something that is neither fish nor fowl. A false prospectus.

We can only hope that everyone pulls together now in creating a decent and credible authority for the future. But this is deeply disappointing.

2 comments

  • My strong concern is that the new Unitary Council is not based on the current County Council as a “continuing authority”.

    We need a fresh start with competitively elected new leadership who then competitively appoint a Chief Executive and Directors.

    There is informed speculation that the County Council is seeking that outcome from the Government.

    Given the lack of democracy in this deeply flawed process, who would trust the Civil Service and the Ministers they advise not to give the County Council what it wants?

    The record of the County Council in providing good services is patchy at best.

    There are longstanding problems in Children’s social care and the Highways service is repeatedly a focus of dissatisfaction and poor outcomes.

    The last thing we need is the County Council status quo simply being rebranded as a new Unitary.

    In those circumstances my suggestion for a new name for that Unitary would be “The Emperor’s new clothes”.

  • I believe there is an opportunity to reverse the Local Government Reorganization in 1974.
    That removed identification from Towns City and Parish Councils, across the county.
    Let’s embrace this once in a new generation opportunity

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