This evening the district councils of Somerset put out a joint statement that was a little less parochial than their initial responses to Somerset County Council’s suggestion of exploring a unitary authority for Somerset.
The full statement reads as follows:
On Wednesday 2 May 2018, Somerset County Council announced that it intends to start a conversation with the district councils and other partners to explore whether a unitary model of local government could be a better way to deliver public services in Somerset.
All the district councils in Somerset recognise the need for change in local government in Somerset. A growth in the demand for Adult Social Care is a national challenge and its financial impact on Somerset County Council, together with the lack of progress in transforming the way it does business, means that the County Council is not financially sustainable in the near future. Somerset’s district councils cannot stand by given the risk this poses to services and the communities we are here to serve.
The assertion that district councils in Somerset are in financial difficulty is inaccurate. All the district councils in Somerset have taken tough decisions and actions to secure their finances and protect services. It is because of this that they will be financially sound in the future, and the claim that a unitary authority is needed to protect district council services is misplaced and just plain wrong.
The district councils are committed to implementing further change in the future to continue to increase our efficiency, effectiveness, improve our services and ensure we deliver for our communities. At this stage, given the progress we have made, the district councils believe the projected savings from establishing a unitary council suggested by Somerset County Council are unrealistic and not based on a sound analysis of our position.
Given its financially precarious position, the districts intend to work with Somerset County Council and other partners to examine all the options for reform in Somerset local government. This conversation could include unitary councils but all other options should be objectively assessed as well.
The district councils’ central aim in participating in any discussions will be to ensure that the priority is not to protect any one or group of existing organisations but to arrive at the best proposals for the residents and businesses of Somerset, recognising that we need to meet the needs of our communities over a large geographical area. The Districts will ensure any change is the right change for the communities of Somerset.