Leader of Somerset County Council, David Fothergill has started the process of looking at the unitary model for councils in Somerset. That means combining the five District Councils and County Council into just one. Not only should it streamline services and make them more efficient for the user, it should enable councils to make large cost savings.
Over the past three years, as government cuts have hit local authorities hard, this is something the Leveller has been calling for repeatedly. It is three years of lost time, but at least SCC are now looking at the prospect and that could involve significant cost savings across the county. This looks like a very positive move.
It will take a lot of goodwill from all parties and there is certainly a long way to go, but this is, at last a move in the right direction. The advantages obvious and David Fothergill outlined them clearly in his statement this morning:
“to give an idea of potential benefits, indicative research using examples such as Dorset and Cornwall suggests a single-authority model could mean:
· Savings of £500k per year by moving from five Chief Executives to one.
· Savings of around £1m per year by reducing the number of councillors covering the county by around 50 per cent from the current 300.
· Moving from multiple back office teams such as HR, Customer Services and Finance to create a more efficient and slimmed down system – likely savings in the millions of pounds.
· Moving from multiple contracts such as IT systems, utilities, and transport costs – likely savings in the millions of pounds
There could also be significant improvements to the current system of six councils working independently, including:
· Residents only having to tell their story once to get the help and support they need.
· Freeing up some council owned buildings to enable investment in frontline services.
· The opportunity to work more strategically on key issues such as planning, housing and infrastructure that currently straddle county and district council responsibilities.
· Giving Somerset a more powerful voice with which to lobby and work with Government”