The Government has fired the starting pistol in the opening shots of the new war for a unitary council, sadly missing the Somerset Tory executive but dealing fatal blows to the Condem districts around the County. The decision to abolish district councils, to reject the popular alternative of ‘Stronger Somerset’ and instead to create one huge and unwieldy Unitary Somerset has been taken by the Secretary of State and comes in the bureaucratic form of the ‘Somerset Structural Changes Order 2022’ thereby paving the way for the new Somerset Council to be established on 1 April 2023. The Tories and Libdems are shooting each other, the Tories are shooting themselves…but is it all a foregone conclusion??
The Order came into force on 16 March 2022 and gives approval to the local elections on 5 May for 110 councillors to the County Council and to the elections for city, town and parish councils across Somerset. It also hands responsibility for building the single unitary council to a new Implementation Executive, while setting the legal basis for the new council that will replace Somerset County Council and four district councils (Mendip, Sedgemoor, Somerset West and Taunton and South Somerset) on 1 April 2023. (…still awake??)
What’s the Story Mourning Tory?
‘County Tories’, who had been bitterly fighting off objections from ‘District Tories’ , were crowing about getting their way. Tory County Councillor Faye Purbrick, Cabinet Member for Local Government Reorganisation (LGR) and one of the main authors of the unitary business case, said she was ‘delighted’ and claiming it was ‘the result of more than two years’ hard work by a group of people who share the vision’ . Hard to believe when Tory district leaders led a campaign against their own county Tory colleagues to try to prevent it happening.
She added “The opportunity, to drive real change for the future of this county is now in all our hands – let’s make it count.” However, with elections set for 5th May the crowing county Tories might end up with egg on their face as voters show them the door. 110 Unitary councillors will be elected with responsibility not just for existing county council services but also the transition to the new council on 1 April 2023. After that date the Districts will be abolished and the new 110 will assume responsibility for all council services in Somerset, including those of the districts.
LieFinder General burns himself at the stake
But what are the prospects for this ‘brave new Somerset’ we find ourselves in? The County Tories and Lib Dems have been engaged already in a war of the glossy leaflets.
The Tory opening shot is the ‘Chronicle’ promising more money for everywhere, more investment for everything and at the same time criticising other parties for spending ‘more money’. Luckily nobody believes the Tories any more, led as they are by the LieFinder General and reflected in their rapidly sinking poll ratings.
The Lib Dems are trying and failing to look like an alternative. As usual and yes with ‘their’ history…. It was of course the Lib Dems who put the Tories back into Government in 2010 (where they’ve been ever since) with their coalition which brought just about the opposite of everything they went into their pact with the devils to achieve. And whats their opening shot? Yes, a big bar chart showing ‘Only the Lib Dems can win here’ -in a clumsy and frankly predictable attempt to discourage voters from voting Red or Green to get the Tories out. But is this even true??
‘It’s a Labour Vote for me’ Says Labour Leader
In Bridgwater, where there’s a Labour town council and has been since it was set up in 2003, Labour Council Leader Brian Smedley paints a different picture. “Around here the Lib Dems are putting out their ‘Lib Dems whining here’ and ‘only us, me, me, me’ usual nonsense, yet for more than 20 years there’s in fact only been one libdem councillor elected in the town -and that was for one year when the Tories forgot to stand in a seat. A correct bar chart for the last 20 years of councillors -Town, District and County- elected in Bridgwater would be ‘Lib Dem 1, UKIP 1, Tory 44 and Labour 130. Try not to take the Lib Dems too seriously…..’