Unitary Debate: Sedgemoor Labour Welcomes ‘Long Awaited’ Stronger Somerset Bid

Labour Leader welcomes Stronger Somerset submission

The Unitary debate is neither wanted nor needed, but it’s here and we have to deal with it. It’s about making savings by cutting jobs and reducing democracy. It’s about intervening in the collapsing Somerset County Council before it fails completely. And it’s about asset stripping the better run district councils. However, Unitary is coming and it will be pushed through by this Government because their agenda is about cutbacks and definitely not about improving local Government. This week the 4 Somerset District Councils finally produced a response to the One Somerset single Unitary bid which was until now the only game on the table. Sedgemoor Labour, the main opposition group on Sedgemoor District Council, studied the rival bids and made their position clear.

Brian Smedley
Cllr Brian Smedley , Leader of Sedgemoor Labour Group

Labour Leader Cllr Brian Smedley (Bridgwater Westover) said “If this was a genuine review into local government, they’d be looking at restoring a proper level of funding to more representative councils, greater democratic accountability and devolving power to the most local levels. Instead the One Somerset bid is about cost cutting, reducing councillor numbers so that people are represented by remote members in overlarge wards and only vague offers to the Towns and Parishes for them to take on income generating powers. So we welcome the Stronger Somerset case, particularly because it’s a cross party project and especially because having 2 smaller unitaries is clearly more democratic, local and relevant. However, there’s a danger that it could also fall into the cuts and savings agenda so loudly boasted of by the County Tories and so there must now follow an intense period of engagement and scrutiny.”

Genuine Representation and Power at the Most Local Level

At local level there are many shades of political opinion which one big Tory county would eradicate

Cllr Smedley added  “It might even be a foregone conclusion that the ‘One Somerset’ position was the Government’s intention all along and the fact that the timescale to get bids in, a shadow authority up and running and force through the changes within a year suggests yet again that this might be the case. Local Government and our communities are not likely to be the winners in any such overlarge and remote Unitary change. We accept Unitary is coming, we see that whatever happens the districts will go but the key question is one of genuine representation and power at the most local level. Across Somerset this means that the smaller the electoral wards the more a community actually will know their councillors. This will mean a wider representation of different political views. If you look at the councils across Somerset you see Labour running Bridgwater, the Greens running Glastonbury, the Lib Dems running Yeovil, the Tories running Burnham & Highbridge and the Independents running Frome. One Somerset will just see one big Tory administration handing out largesse while opposition and alternatives are eliminated. We only have to look at what happened in the recent Unitary Tory monoliths created in Dorset and Wiltshire.”

Smaller Wards=More Democracy

Political representation becomes more varied the lower the  level it represents

A study of the Somerset statistics show clearly that the smaller the wards involved the more democracy and the more a community knows who its councillor is. This is evidenced by the following chart which shows the massive democratic deficit in ‘One Somerset’ with its bigger and more remote wards and how they would reflect a greater democracy at a lower level of engagement. Cllr Smedley adds “No wonder the County Tories love this idea yet their District Tory colleagues are acutely embarrassed by it!”

Click here for the Bridgwater Unitary position.

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Bernard Grant
Bernard Grant
3 years ago

This is political manipulation, Thatcher tried it by introducing the Poll Tax, it led to her demise, hopefully the Tories will be hanging themselves right across the Country as the Super Tory Councils reduce the already vastly underfunded Services, to the point where the people rebel.

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