Somerset elections set for 2022
Today the Secretary of State has announced the date of elections to the new Somerset Unitary Authority. These will take place in May 2022. Good news in terms of moving the process forward. But a small mountain of work for council staff, returning officers and all those who must now make it happen.
David Fothergill, Leader of Somerset County Council, said: “I welcome the Minister’s decision and the clarity it brings to the coming months. We now all know when the first election to the new Somerset Council will be. The confirmation of continuing authority status will make the process of building a new Somerset Council far more straightforward.”
Given the tight deadline it seems certain that there will now need to be 110 councillors for these initial elections. With no time for a boundary review, the only option is to use existing County Council “divisions” (constituencies). By having two councillors elected for each of the 55 divisions, elections can go ahead with a minimum of fuss.
Reacting to the Government’s publication of the Structural Change order for the creation of a new Somerset council, Leader of South Somerset District Council Val Keitch said:
“I am very pleased to see that the Structural Change Order published today ends any uncertainty and confirms that elections must take place in May 2022. It is vital that Somerset’s voice is heard throughout this process.
“We will continue to work together as five councils to ensure we create a new authority which delivers the best future for Somerset.”
The Secretary of State has also announced that Somerset County Council will indeed be a continuing authority. This is one of the more controversial aspects of the changes. It means that the county council continues as an entity. It then “swallows up” the districts to become one enlarged unitary. Then it will change name.
The advantage of this, is that employees get continuity of employment. It provides consistency of other benefits too. The risk, is that county council departments will not be reformed to the same degree as district council functions will be.
The proof as ever will be in the eating. Meanwhile a committee of representatives of the four districts and county council are working on the future. There are no doubt exciting times ahead.
But as the Chinese curse goes “may you live in interesting times”….