SOMERSET councillors have been granted their wish to postpone the county council election – due to be held on May 6 – until May 2022.
At a full meeting of the Conservative-led county council in November, members voted 34-12 with nine abstentions to call for the election to be delayed because of the uncertainty over the proposals for local government reforms.
Somerset council leader, Cllr David Fothergill, subsequently wrote to the Government calling for a delay.
And today central Government backed the request when announcing the launch of their consultation regarding the proposed reforms which include a One Somerset plan, preferred by the county, and a Stronger Somerset plan, favoured by district councils.
A Government spokesperson said: “The consultation asks a number of questions about each proposal around value for money, proposed geography of the council and impact of the proposal on local services.
“As a result of today’s consultation launch, the district and county council elections due to be held in May this year will be rescheduled to May 2022.
“Rescheduling local elections avoids the possibility of the electorate being asked to vote for councils while at the same time they are 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, we would expect any new unitary council to be fully operational from April 2023 with transitional arrangements expected to be in place from 2022, including elections in May 2022 to the shadow or continuing councils.
“The elections for local police and crime commissioners, as well as elections to any town or parish councils, will continue to take place in May 2021.”
The proposal to move the date of the elections received a great deal of opposition – not least from Ian Liddell-Grainger, Conservative MP for Bridgwater and West Somerset.
Two weeks ago he said: “County council elections MUST go ahead. The Government has decided to proceed with local elections in England this May. But the leader of the county council is still hoping Somerset will be made a ‘special’ case for local government reform which could delay elections for at least another year.
“This would be a dreadful state of affairs and undermine democracy itself.
“The last county elections were held four years ago. We may have put them in power back then. But denying the people a chance to throw them out now would be wrong.
“I do not believe Ministers will accept the county council’s argument. And I am quite sure voters would be furious.”
Consultation on proposals for local government reform have also been submitted by councils in Cumbria and North Yorkshire where elections have also been postponed to 2022.
The consultation period will run for eight weeks until Monday, April 19. Those responding may do so on the department’s online platform ‘Citizen Space’ or by email or post.