Progress and Election Delay for Proposed Unitaries
By Helen Tilton, Associate
As we have previously reported, December saw the business case submitted to the Secretary of State to create a single council for Somerset. Two proposals were ultimately submitted. The four district councils – Mendip, Sedgemoor, Somerset West and Taunton and South Somerset – jointly submitted a proposal for two unitary councils: ‘Eastern Somerset’ (comprising the area covered by Mendip and South Somerset District Councils), and ‘Western Somerset’ (comprising the area covered by Sedgemoor and Somerset West & Taunton District Councils). Somerset County Council submitted a proposal for a single unitary council for the area of Somerset County.
Formal consultation on the proposals launched on 22nd February and will run until 19th April. The consultation asks a number of questions around value for money, proposed geography of the council and impact of the proposals on local services. Following the consultation the Local Government Secretary will consider the proposals before making a decision about which option, if any, to implement.
There had been suggestions from some quarters that a global pandemic is not the right time to be considering restructuring, but equally suggestions that the benefits of a unitary authority would be precisely what is needed as part of the recovery. Either way, as a result of the consultation launch, the affected district and county council elections due to be held this May are proposed to be rescheduled to May 2022. This avoids the possibility of the electorate being asked to vote for councils while at the same time as being given the opportunity to express their views on the possible abolition of those councils (it also avoids Members potentially being elected to serve short terms).
Subject to Parliamentary approval, any new unitary council would be fully operational from April 2023.
You can access the consultation here.