Choose the proposal with local support, Leaders urge Local Government Minister
Thursday 1st July, 2021
Somerset’s District Council Leaders have written to Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick, MP to urge that he attaches ‘sufficient weight’ to the result of the local poll, which returned a 65% to 35% vote in favour of the Stronger Somerset plan for two new unitary councils, over the One Somerset rival plan for a single unitary.
The Secretary of State is expected to announce his decision on the future of local government in Somerset before the Parliamentary summer recess begins on 22 July.
In their letter the Leaders also point out that the poll result is not an isolated outcome. It forms a consistent pattern of rejection of a single unitary council for Somerset that stretches back to the referendum in 2007 and takes in an opinion survey conducted by Ipsos MORI last year when four options were presented – two unitary councils, one unitary, greater collaboration between existing councils and no change. In that survey, two unitaries topped the poll again with 29% preferring this solution compared with just 15% preferring a single unitary.
Leaders back their case that the poll should be part of the decision-making process with legal advice from one of the UK’s top legal advisors, James Goudie QC, who has given clear guidance to the district councils that the Secretary of State must take account of all relevant considerations, and that “prominent among these will be ALL evidence bearing on the key criterion of local support, including the result of a poll.”
In the letter the Leaders say: “We absolutely appreciate your ambition for unitary in Somerset and we believe that Stronger Somerset provides you with a ready-made, deliverable plan for unitary reorganisation that commands popular local support. It will result in two Unitary councils that are big enough to be efficient and economic, but small enough to think and act locally and deliver local representation.
“We look forward to receiving notification of the outcome in due course and trust that the proposal you choose will have sufficiently demonstrated broad local support.”