Answering the consultation questions
Local Government Secretary Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP is consulting on proposals for the future of local government in Somerset. He has said he welcomes the views of all those interested in these proposals, including local residents, town and parish councils, businesses and the voluntary sector. He has said he will carefully consider all views expressed, including from local residents.
The consultation asks the following questions:
Q1. Is the councils’ proposal likely to improve local government and service delivery across each area? Specifically, is it likely to improve council services, give greater value for money, generate savings, provide stronger strategic and local leadership, and create more sustainable structures?
Q2. Where it is proposed that services will be delivered on a different geographic footprint to currently, or through some form of joint arrangements is this likely to improve those services? Such services may for example be children’s services, waste collection and disposal, adult health and social care, planning, and transport.
Q3. Is the councils’ proposal also likely to impact local public services delivered by others, such as police, fire and rescue, and health services?
Q4. Do you support the proposal from the councils?
Q5. Do the unitary councils proposed by the councils represent a credible geography?
You will find the assurances to these questions below and you can find more detail in our business case.
Q1. Is this proposal likely to improve local government and service delivery across each area? Specifically, is it likely to improve council services, will it give greater value for money, generate savings, provide stronger strategic and local leadership and create more sustainable structures?
The short version…
Anyone who knows and loves Somerset knows that the Eastern and Western parts of our county have real differences. They have different kinds of employers, jobs and opportunities, and there are different transport and education issues. In short, they each have a different local economy, and therefore we need two new unitary authorities for Eastern and Western Somerset to replace the current district and county councils.
Under Stronger Somerset’s proposals everyone in Somerset will have one council, with one set of councillors, and one council tax bill. Two councils is the right solution for Somerset because the new councils will be big enough to deliver efficient public services and small enough to be local and accountable to Somerset people.
The cost of local government will be lower. Stronger Somerset will get rid of the duplication of functions across five councils and sharing of back-office services across the two new councils will ensure savings as good as through one council for the county. These savings will be used to invest in reform of services that will produce better results and long-term financial stability.
Stronger Somerset has a plan for the county’s needs now and into the future. We need reform, not just cost-cutting.
The longer version…
The deep, fundamental reform that Stronger Somerset proposes will transform the places and quality of life in Somerset and give residents excellent, value-for-money services.
It is clear we need change. Somerset is a great place to live, work and learn, but we are lagging behind in a number of areas.
The performance of the County Council’s adults' services against the 27 indicators in the Adult Social Care Outcomes Framework (ASCOF), 15 are ranked in the bottom half and the Council is 115th of 151 for overall satisfaction.
The County Council’s children’s services were judged by Ofsted to be inadequate in 2015 and ‘requiring improvement to be good’ in 2017. They were reviewed again in 2019 and found still to have too much variation in quality. Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) services are currently subject to a Written Statement of Action because of significant areas of weakness.
A high cost is being paid for weakness in these services. At present, services are unsustainable, with a combined projected annual funding gap of £17m by 2024/25, across all councils, with £9.7m of that coming from the County Council (this is prior to the impact of the pandemic and spending review). This growing funding gap is being driven in the main by the key county council service areas of social care, the largest services and areas of spending.
This not good enough for the people of Somerset.
The immediate improvements from Stronger Somerset will be:
- Every citizen in Somerset will have one council and one council tax bill. The new councils will be big enough to deliver and small enough to be local.
- The cost of local government will be lower. We will get rid of the duplication of functions across five councils and sharing of back-office services across the two new councils will ensure savings as good as through one council for the county.
- Residents and businesses will be offered sign-on to their own council and any partner website. This is the benefit from our involvement to date in the development of the ‘UK digital identity and attributes trust framework.’
- A proportion of the savings will be used to fund targeted investment to reform high-cost services, using best practice from elsewhere. This reform will ensure services are affordable in the long-term. While this investment will mean short-term savings are marginally smaller that the County Council alternative plan, the long-term financial benefits are significantly greater.
- Children in Somerset will benefit from investment in the introduction of an alternative delivery model (ADM) for children’s services (based on the successful Achieving for Children model in Kingston-upon-Thames) which will see a fresh start for these troubled services, a clearer focus for staff and, crucially, better integration with schools.
- Adults and older people will benefit from investment in services, where despite significant and growing levels of need, resourcing in Somerset is low and the spend on prevention services very low, compared to other similar areas. The existing ‘Promoting Independence’ strategy, introduced in 2017/18, is hugely dependent on localism and this will be better delivered by councils that are closer to their communities.
- Town and parish councils, whose role during the pandemic has been so crucial, will be bolstered by a new communities and devolution team. This team will work collaboratively to build the capacity and capability of individuals, groups and organisations in villages, towns and cities so they are best placed to improve their own localities.
- Businesses will benefit from a clear recognition the significant economic differences that exist in Eastern and Western Somerset, as well as a renewed focus in the development of digital infrastructure across the whole county.
Stronger Somerset will provide stronger strategic and local leadership, with more sustainable structures. Where county-wide or regional approaches are needed, we propose joined-up structures. Where place-led and local solutions are needed, we have built that in.
We will from five councils at present, down to two new unitary councils. This is simpler and creates the size of council that people can relate to, with enough local councillors, so they know their local patch and people in that patch know and see them.
Our proposal also supports distributed leadership, in which opportunity for local initiatives and joining up the system at a local level is enabled. We will introduce scope for locality agreements, to enable town and parish councils and community groups to submit, with assistance from the community and devolution teams, proposals for the devolution of assets and services to achieve specific outcomes for communities.
This initiative empowers communities and professionals to work together to create local initiatives that can for example support the wider determinants of health or the reduction in crime, or the regeneration of places.
We believe that this will make a significant difference to outcomes across eastern and western Somerset.
Q2. Where it is proposed that services will be delivered on a different geographic footprint than currently, through some form of joint arrangements, is this likely to improve those services? Such services may for example be children’s services, waste collection and disposal, adult health and social care, planning, and transport.
The short version…
The strength of the Stronger Somerset proposal is that it recognises that local services must be delivered at the most appropriate local level to be effective and efficient. For example, under this proposal, children’s services would be delivered county-wide under a new body, and other important services would be delivered closer to home. What matters is what works best.
The longer version…
Stronger Somerset is proposing shared arrangements where these makes sense between the two unitary councils to reduce duplication and cut costs – these would largely be back-office arrangements. Citizens would experience improved efficiency and feel the impact on their council tax bills.
Stronger Somerset is proposing an Alternative Delivery Model for children’s services, which will deliver services across the county – the same geographical footprint as at present. Children in Somerset will benefit from investment in the alternative delivery model (ADM) for children’s services (based on the successful Achieving for Children model in Kingston-upon-Thames) which will see a fresh start for these troubled services, a clearer focus for staff and, crucially, better integration with schools.
We will not lose the things we do well now. Stronger Somerset will build on the strength of district councils who have worked well together to reduce waste, to deliver new housing, and reduce costs whilst improving the services the public most value.
While aware and alive to local differences, we also need to operate at a higher level, with one voice for our historic county, drawing in the investment and powers we need to make a real difference.
Stronger Somerset envisages a Combined Authority ready to deliver a themed devolution deal to include Bath and North East Somerset and North Somerset.
This would open door to, for example, a step change in digital connectivity that will support a different environment for business, relationship with government, and reduce the need for travel.
The short version…
Stronger Somerset’s proposals give the best opportunity for all local public services to work together and tackle local issues effectively. The new councils will share boundaries with health services and police. It’s a perfect fit and it makes the most sense.
The longer version…
The current arrangements of one Safeguarding Children Board, one Safeguarding Board and one Health and Wellbeing board, which support our work with partners, will remain.
There will be one Director of Children’s services in the Alternative Delivery Model to bring quality and consistency across the County.
Each council would have its own Director of Adults (DASS) – a statutory requirement – representing an investment that would help us better integrate services at a local level by accelerating the work with Primary Care Networks, with which the new councils will share boundaries.
The services would be coterminous with arrangements for policing, which is already operationally divided into east and west Somerset, in recognition of the fact that they are very different places from a policing point of view.
The Stronger Somerset proposals include a strong data and analytics function, in which open data, performance, and analytics, are shared across partners and with the public, to provide a transparent evidence base. Standard and open APIs then enable partner collaboration, at a shared casework level, and as a service brokerage to match needs to services.
Stronger Somerset’s proposals give the best opportunity for all agencies to collaborate in real-time to tackle local issues together.
Only the Stronger Somerset business case sets out the ideas, fresh thinking and evidence to show how reform can be achieved and sustain excellent services right across our communities.
These proposals deliver £204m of financial benefit over 10-years – £35m more than a single county unitary.
Without reform of services, reorganising councils cannot achieve real improvement. Only Stronger Somerset properly addresses that.
The short version…
The Stronger Somerset proposal is anchored firmly in the geographic and demographic realities of living and working in Somerset. It is not a one-size-fits-all plan, designed on a drawing board, but instead takes into account the ways our local communities live, work, travel, learn, and want to develop in the future. Two councils is the right solution for a county of Somerset’s size. You feel the difference living east or west of the M5 – businesses are different, getting around is different and places feel different. One council would feel too remote and less able to reflect these differences, when that is needed.
The longer version…
The two new councils we propose will each cover distinct areas based on established local economies as well as aligning with existing boundaries used by emergency services and the health service. This is the right solution for a county of Somerset’s size, recognising the important differences of our diverse communities.
A Western and an Eastern unitary is the only way to understand the real economic and social differences between the east and west of our county, and serve them better.
A Western Somerset unitary council will be able to focus upon maximising the opportunities from Hinkley Point, alternative energy and coastal tourism. An Eastern Somerset unitary council can focus on making the area a hub for aerospace and high-tech manufacturing around Yeovil and the developments in agri-tech.
A single unitary for Somerset would serve an unusually large population, second only to Cornwall, and more than 600,000 people within a few years of being established. Whereas a two unitary solution would place each, in terms of size, just above mid-way in the range and over 300,000 people shortly after being set up.
The two unitaries we propose provide a balanced split of population across the county. Western Somerset would comprise the current areas of Somerset West & Taunton and Sedgemoor District Councils. This area comprises some areas of deep rurality, combined with coastal areas to the North and West along with the towns around Taunton, Bridgwater and Burnham-on-Sea.
Eastern Somerset would comprise the current areas of Mendip and South Somerset District Councils. This area is mainly rural with main towns Frome and Yeovil Street and Glastonbury and the city of Wells, together with a large number of market towns.
The Western Somerset area has a population around 5,000 smaller than the Eastern Somerset area, although it is set to grow rapidly with new developments around Taunton garden town, for example.
Western Somerset contains three travel to work areas around Taunton, Bridgwater and Minehead where most people who live in the area also work and two main functional economic areas linked to the M5 corridor and Western Somerset coast. There are growth sector opportunities such as clean energy including nuclear linked to Hinkley C and climate and environmental sciences including the UK Hydrographic Office in Taunton and connectivity through the M5 spine.
Eastern Somerset contains two travel to work areas around Street & Wells and Yeovil where most people who live in the area work and two main functional economic areas linked to the A361 corridor and A303 corridor. The growth sector opportunities include agri-tech and advanced manufacturing and aerospace core including rotorcraft around Yeovil.