A joint response to misinformation released by Somerset County Council
21 September 2020
You may have recently received a copy of the publication Your Somerset through your letterbox which focuses almost exclusively on the important debate around the future of local government in the county.
Flatteringly, Somerset County Council dedicates a significant amount of time commenting on the forward-thinking Stronger Somerset business case which has been created by the district councils of Somerset.
Stronger Somerset will create two councils for Somerset, replacing the county council and the four district councils. We will have a more joined up system of local government to ensure every person - young and old - lives well, our economy thrives and the needs of the climate emergency are met.
Unfortunately, Somerset County Council made a number of factual errors in its publication which we are sure it will be happy to correct. For clarity, we thought we would provide details of the key issues so you’re clear how Stronger Somerset will create a better future in the county.
Claim: District councils have “made a u-turn” to support unitary councils.
Fact: This is far from the case. The districts have always been fundamentally opposed to two options – doing nothing (due to the unsustainable pressures Somerset County Council faces) and a single council for Somerset. The single council proposal is based on an old concept that was considered and then rejected by the people of Somerset back in 2007. Somerset County Council itself rejected the idea of a single council as recently as last year in a joint report before changing its mind. The people of Somerset deserve more than the cheapest possible form of local government - Stronger Somerset is based on reform to improve services and get better results for the people of Somerset.
Claim: Stronger Somerset will create new layers of bureaucracy
Fact: Quite the opposite. Stronger Somerset introduces a series of new and innovative ideas to challenge the way things have always been done. The traditional way of working has, sadly, resulted in some significant services struggling at a county level despite the best efforts of hard-working staff. If you read the business case, you’ll see this is about bringing power and money from Whitehall to Somerset so Somerset people decide how it is spent. The Government requires a Mayor and a Combined Authority to be set up if the power and money is to be devolved by government as in Manchester and West Midlands where local people are now deciding on how to use power and resources once centrally controlled.
Claim: Five councils into one or five in to two is the choice
Fact: The actual choice is between old fashioned centrally controlled local government focussed on saving money and cutting services that is proven not to work versus radical reform to get better outcomes, improve quality of life, and strengthen democracy in the form of Stronger Somerset. Do the people of Somerset want the services they value to be cut under a single council proposal or do they want real change, local democracy and investment in their services through Stronger Somerset?
Claim: Due to the complexity of Stronger Somerset, there will be four new authorities being created
Fact: If you continue to focus on traditional, old-fashioned structures, the future does not look bright and you are likely to be facing years of cuts. Stronger Somerset proposes partnership arrangements for a more joined up approach to providing essential services, but this does not mean extra layers of bureaucracy, it is just good business that works for people. Is SCC saying it does not support partnership arrangements anymore such as the Somerset Waste Partnership or the partnerships with the Health sector, and it will be bringing these to an end?
Claim: The districts did not deliver on their promise to consult with the public
Fact: We are consulting and engaging now and will continue to over the coming months as we develop our proposals further with the input of people from across Somerset before we finalise our plans.
Claim: Four chief executives and finance directors needed for the district plans
Fact: This is false. The case clearly shows that two are proposed for each authority. Somerset is too large to support a single council. Our two unitary council model brings decision-making closer to the doorstep. We will work closely with the county’s hundreds of parish and town councils and other local organisations to connect our communities and improve lives. Local leadership will see Stronger Somerset forge new relationships with communities on the issues that really matter to them.
Claim: Three directors of children’s services are needed for district plans.
Fact: Only one director is proposed as part of our plans to support children in Somerset. Our innovative solutions in this area have been created with external expertise, guided at every step by the Social Care Institute for Excellence.
Claim: South Somerset District Council is taking over Mendip District Council and Somerset West & Taunton Council is taking over Sedgemoor District Council.
Fact: This is not the case. There will be two new councils, not mergers of the districts, delivering services previously provided by the five Somerset councils and run by councillors drawn from across their areas not one part of their area.
To really see what Stronger Somerset proposes, visit our Case for change section and have your say.
And perhaps, SCC’s Leader David Fothergill might like to answer the following questions we have:
Why does SCC keep publishing things about the districts and the Stronger Somerset business case that it knows not to be true?
Does he now feel his business case is so weak that he needs to mislead the people of Somerset to stand a chance of winning this debate?
Stronger Somerset is the plan that puts people, businesses and the environment first, investing in Somerset, while remaining close to our communities.
Issued on behalf of the Leaders of Mendip District Council, Sedgemoor District Council, Somerset West & Taunton Council, and South Somerset District Council.