Agenda item

RULE 15 Government invitation to Somerset to submit locally led proposals for unitary local government

On 9th October 2020, the Council received a letter form the Secretary of State for Housing Communities and Local Government inviting submission for locally led proposals for unitary local government in Somerset (nationally alongside North Yorkshire and Cumbria).


The Councils in these three areas now have the opportunity to develop and submit their proposals for how they want to restructure local government to establish unitary local government.


Councillor Dine Romero introduced this report by saying that she has received a letter from the Secretary of State for housing Communities and Local Government on the 9th October, asking if the Council would want to submit a locally led proposal for unitary local government with all of, or part of Somerset.  In May 2018 Somerset County Council announced its intention to explore a model of government which might deliver better services in Somerset.  Earlier discussions included the districts within Somerset County Council's borders, as well as with North Somerset, and Bath and North East Somerset. The administration of the Council had commissioned advice in 2018, so that it could objectively take part in those early discussions.  That advice concluded that there were significant risks to the Council's ability to deliver its strategic priorities, noting that the proposed financial impact, along with the ability of Bath the North East Somerset, to be able to develop policies and interventions specific to its socio-economic environment were likely to be hampered.  Also, any benefits were deemed to be insignificant compared to the scale of risk arising from the proposal.

Councillor Romero continued by saying that she did not believe that situation had changed.  The Council did not formally take part in discussions, nor was the Council involved in the business plans drawn up and submitted by Somerset County Council, nor those submitted by the four District Councils within Somerset County Council.  Councillor Romero didn’t believe that at this time the Council would have anything to gain by submitting a late extra option for government to consider.  The Council did have a question of North Somerset's request to join WECA that would need to be fully addressed.  This would have some obvious benefits as it would consolidate the economic area as this was a region that the Council has already worked within. Councillor Romero added that in her view this request would need to be resolved more urgently than creating a new unitary with untried partners. The Council would need to continue to act as a separate local unitary authority, and continue to cooperate with all public sector partners, including neighbouring Councils, to offer the best services to local residents and visitors.


Councillor Dine Romero moved the recommendations.


Councillor Richard Samuel seconded the motion by saying that the history of County based reorganisations around the country has not been a happy one over the years.  The cost of these reorganisations has been higher than hoped at the point proposals were put forward and agreed by the government. These reorganisations consume an enormous amount of time in the public sector, not just for the Councils involved but also for partners who work with the Councils, and at this particular point in time, when all Councils were trying to work with colleagues in the National Health Service to help tackle the COVID19 pandemic, this was a costly and entirely unnecessary distraction. Councillor Samuel agreed with the Leader that the Council should build on previous partnerships.

Councillor Samuel concluded by saying that this proposal did not seem to be a great deal for BANES residents.  Nevertheless, the Council have taken this proposal seriously, and in reaching the recommendations have considered carefully the possibilities.


Councillor David Wood agreed with the comments made by the Leader and Councillor Samuel and added that the Council had to consider what was the best for its residents.  Councillor Wood felt that entering into unitary local government with Somerset would be a poor outcome for the residents of BANES, and for those reasons he would be voting for the recommendation of the Leader.


RESOLVED (unanimously) that the Cabinet agreed to:


1)  Consider this report and recommend to Council that it does not submit a proposal for local government reorganisation in Somerset, and


2)  Indicate its intention to continue to act as a separate local unitary authority council (Bath & North  East Somerset Council) but continue to co-operate with all public sector partners (including neighbouring councils) to offer the best services it can to its local residents and visitors.


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