At today’s special meeting of Sedgemoor District Council, members voted 42-0 to back the critical response to the County’s controversial One Somerset option and offer support to the united position of the 4 districts, in the form of STRONGER SOMERSET concerning the proposed local Government reforms. As the 19th April deadline for the consultation approaches, councillors of all parties agreed that the One Somerset proposal will not give greater value for money, nor will it provide strong strategic leadership, does little to address how it plans to reduce inequality, level up and meet other national policy drivers and it cannot offer sustainability of service delivery into the future thereby presenting a risk to residents, particularly the most vulnerable and concludes that the One Somerset proposal represents a serious risk of deteriorating services that will fail Somerset’s residents and communities.
Need to deliver better care services
The approved report concluded “The District authorities in Somerset believe that significant reform is required to deliver better, more sustainable adults’, children’s and public health services.”
“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 outturns 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 2nd largest in the country. commenting “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 backs Stronger Somerset as ‘local’ and ‘democratic’
Speaking at the meeting, Labour Leader Cllr Brian Smedley (Labour Westover) said “When this council voted in September to reject One Somerset and support the Stronger Somerset case, it was unanimous and cross party 39-0 with 4 abstentions. Actually the strongest response and biggest majority in any district across the county. That’s because 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. Clearly there are 2 distinct economic zones, the West based on the M5 corridor and the Coast and the East based on the 303 and the Interior. The One Somerset model would be a disaster, the Stronger Somerset model is the best way forward to stop it happening. The vast majority of elected councillors have indicated that throughout the county- (and to remind you, that’s 169 elected councillors in favour of Stronger Somerset to 56 in favour of One Somerset) but probably the next step should be to put that directly to the people of Somerset- the secretary of state seems to be afraid of that option, but when you’re afraid of what the people think and don’t give them the chance to express it, democracy is the victim. So please press ahead with this response and I’d urge everyone across the county to try to engage with it-no matter how flawed it is-and it IS flawed.”
Cllr Brian Smedley is also the leader of Labour controlled Bridgwater Town Council which last week voted to back the Stronger Somerset position. All 16 members agreed that this was the best model to improve the position of Town and Parish councils across the county and that One Somerset would be far too remote to genuinely reflect local people.
The Government Consultation closes on Monday April 19th.
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