A NEW Local Government Reorganisation (LGR) Joint Committee has met to steer the move to a single unitary council for Somerset.
The committee has been formed following the decision in July by Robert Jenrick – then Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government – that the county would see a switch to a unitary body from April 1, 2023.
It is made up of the leader of Somerset County Council, the leaders of the four district councils, plus four Somerset county councillors.
County council leader Cllr David Fothergill chaired the meeting while Cllr Val Keitch, leader of South Somerset District Council, was unanimously elected vice-chair.
They discussed terms of reference, programme governance, budget, future meetings and agreed a work programme.
The committee also agreed that the name of the new unitary authority, as proposed by the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC), would be Somerset Council.
Some matters regarding the draft Structural Changes Order (SCO) – the basic operating and governance principles for transition from five existing councils to the new unitary council – were deferred to allow for further consultation within individual councils.
They included the date of the next elections (either May 2022 or May 2023), plus the proposal that Somerset County Council will be the “continuing authority” for the new council.
Cllr Fothergill, said: “This was an historic day for public services in Somerset and I’m both honoured and proud to be a part of it along with my county and district colleagues.
“Collectively we can now focus our efforts on developing a new council that will deliver first rate services for our communities.
“The new Somerset Council will be more responsive, effective and accountable to our council tax payers, our partners and our service users and will free-up millions of pounds that we can invest into improving lives across the county.
“The new council will see decisions made by, and in communities, wherever possible. This will be a very different sort of council.”
Cllr Keitch, added: “The Joint Committee demonstrates co-ordinated local leadership, and enables us as a group to adopt clear, common positions.
“As a single-point of resolution, we’ll also be well-placed to make prompt decisions and ensure we are best prepared locally for the transition, and the volume of work ahead.”