The Leaders of Somerset’s four District Councils have written to Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, in the wake of the Local Poll which showed overwhelming support for Stronger Somerset from residents in the county.
In the letter, the Leaders confirm that the districts have a transition team ready to engage with Government officials on the next stages towards implementation.
In the recent Local Poll, 65.3% voted for two unitaries delivering services close to the communities of Eastern and Western Somerset. Just 34.7% supported a proposal for a single unitary with a turnout of more than 111,000.
The Leaders state: “There is a crystal-clear majority for two unitary authorities, not one. And this is the third time the Somerset public have rejected a County Council single unitary; In the 2007 referendum where 82% opposed a single unitary council, in the Ipsos MORI poll late last year where a single unitary was the last option people wanted, and now in the recent referendum. These results are not anomalies. There is consistent, longstanding and deeply felt opposition to a County Council unitary expressed several times over many years. Each time the people of Somerset are asked they repeat exactly the same answer.
“Our judgement is that it is vital to the credibility of the decision-making process and to the delivery of the Government’s goal of ‘levelling up’ that you now declare Stronger Somerset the preferred option.”
Additionally, a week on from victory in the Local Poll, the Leaders of Somerset West and Taunton Council and Sedgemoor District Council met to discuss next steps in the establishment of a new Western Somerset unitary council.
Stronger Somerset, the plan for two councils, Western Somerset and Eastern Somerset, to replace Somerset’s existing five county and district councils, was the overwhelming choice of local residents in the poll, winning 65% of the vote.
While the Council Leaders now await the decision of the Local Government Secretary, Robert Jenrick, they know they must begin making arrangements to ensure a smooth transition.
This will involve closer working together as two district councils and joint working with the county council.
“We are working to have the new councils up and running in April 2023,” said Cllr Duncan McGinty, Leader of Sedgemoor District Council. “While that might seem a long way off, there is an awful lot of work to do before then and we have to get cracking.”
“We will need an agreed implementation plan in just a few months’ time, so there is no time to waste,” said Cllr Federica Smith-Roberts, Leader of Somerset West and Taunton Council. “We invite our colleagues from the county council to now join us in this important work.”
The decision of the Local Government Secretary on the future of local government in Somerset is due before the summer Parliamentary recess on 22 July. It is expected that the Stronger Somerset proposal will be the future if he listens to the people’s verdict.