SEDGEMOOR District Council yesterday voted 42-0 to back the Stronger Somerset option in the proposed local Government reforms.
As the April 19 deadline for the consultation approaches, councillors of all parties were united against the alternative One Somerset proposal.
They said it would:
- not give greater value for money
- not provide strong strategic leadership
- does little to address how it plans to reduce inequality
- cannot offer sustainability of service delivery into the future, thereby presenting a risk to residents
- represent a serious risk of deteriorating services that will fail Somerset’s residents and communities.
“The One Somerset proposal is silent on this, despite evidence of consistent performance issues in in relation to children’s and adults’ services, as evidenced by recent Ofsted and CQC inspections for Children’s Services and Special Educational Needs and Disabilities and the most recent Adults Social Care Outcomes Framework data, where more than half of indicators are in the bottom 50% of England rankings.”
County has consistently overspent
The report continues: “When we consider the County Council’s wider record on managing demand-led service costs, it has struggled in this area to date.
“County Council budget out-turns show, for example, that children’s services have consistently overspent each year between 2016/17 to 2019/20, with money being taken from other services (notably economic and community infrastructure) to meet this overspend. “
A Top-down approach to Localism
The report is also critical of the all-powerful model saying: “We do not believe that strong local leadership will result from the One Somerset proposal, as the structure proposed is imposed top down and will inhibit a truly localist approach.
“There is a risk of disconnect between the council and the communities it serves.”
A geography that is too large
The Geographical issue – a key question in the Government consultation, was also addressed, with clear concerns that a single unitary Somerset will make it the second largest in the country.
The report says: “The One Somerset proposal does not acknowledge the differing challenges and different local economies that exist in what is a large county.
“The reality of the Eastern side of Somerset is that it is formed of attractive market towns and surrounding villages, that need a tailored approach and one that is very different to the Taunton and Bridgwater dominance that our local councils fear.
“We do not believe that a monolithic council, centred in Taunton, will be close, accessible and accountable to the people it serves.
“Our Ipsos MORI poll showed clearly the higher level of trust which residents place in their district council compared to the county council.
“The poll also demonstrated residents’ views that Eastern and Western Somerset are different in character and needs and that communities are demanding a more localist approach. The One Somerset proposal neither acknowledges this nor will it deliver what residents want.”
Poorer outcomes for residents
In conclusion the report says: “Sedgemoor District Council does not support the proposal for One Somerset. The proposal has no ambition for improving services or plan to improve outcomes for communities and level up.
It does not address: the current known financial shortfalls; the issues underpinning growing demand; or future likely reductions of funding. As a result, the proposal presents a serious risk of poorer outcomes for residents and communities, in particular the most vulnerable and service deterioration or even failure.
“The One Somerset model will not deliver the economic growth necessary to level up.”
Labour Group concerns
Among the most vocal opponents of the proposals at the meeting was Labour leader Cllr Brian Smedley (Westover, Bridgwater), who said: “We all recognise the threat not just to local government but to democracy itself proposed by this cynical power grab from the top which will only lead to a remote form of government with feudal grandees representing people who barely know them across a geography that might be good when it comes to county cricket but cant be applied to geographical areas that are relevant to present day local government.
The Government Consultation closes on Monday April 19.
There are two alternatives
You can respond online here
You can also reply by post
You can detach, fill in and post the section of the ‘Future of Local Government in Somerset’ leaflet
You can write directly to Governance Reform and Democracy MHCLG, 2 Marsham Street, London SW1P 4DF