Following last weeks controversial decision by the Government to grant Unitary Council status to a single ‘One Somerset’ Council in the face of a public vote to the contrary which supported the rival districts’ proposal of ‘Stronger Somerset’, County leader David Fothergill has taken several major steps to meet his critics. The most important announcement came today when Mr Fothergill dropped the unpopular ‘One Somerset’ brand and called for a new start. The move was welcomed by opposition leaders . Cllr Brian Smedley Leader of the Sedgemoor Labour Group and Bridgwater Town Council said “This is a crucial change of heart from County. They have accepted this will be a new council of equals and not a County takeover. Districts, Councillors, Towns and Parishes have been justified in calling for a new start with localism at the heart of this project instead of the remote feudal monolith that the Government wanted to install. This now presents opportunities for towns such as Bridgwater to make their case to regain historic powers, continue to deliver services locally, increase and protect a loyal workforce and save democracy. It also means a fresh start and lets hope that now means an end to any so-called ‘Continuity Council’ top down solution. Bridgwater will now engage with all players to make sure we get the best for our communities out of this.”
Somerset County Council Leader David Fothergill in his statement urged people to get involved with building the new council as he also confirmed a move away from the One Somerset campaign name saying “One of the things we’ll need to agree collectively over the next 18 months is a name for the new council. It’s clear it won’t be called One Somerset and I think it’s important we stop talking about the campaign and devote our energies to building the new council. Our business case is much more than just reducing waste and confusion. It also sets out ambitious plans for up to 20 new Local Community Networks across Somerset, reaching every part of the county and giving communities real power and influence over the decisions that affect them most. This is the exciting part and in creating these we have a fantastic opportunity to transform how public services operate and put our communities first. Please get involved and help us build a new council which works for everyone.”
This has to be a NEW council
Cllr Smedley said “The Local Community Networks ‘could’ be the vehicle for restoring local powers so Bridgwater Town Council will work immediately with neighbouring parishes, the districts and the county to make sure this isn’t a missed opportunity. But, we have to warn County that this has to be a genuine offer and that new local hubs need to have the funding as well as the powers to take on services and staff and not just be handed down failing departments and dilapidated assets. What we don’t want to see is assets sold off or cash grabs on districts. This has to be open and honest collaboration with a sincere outcome to restore public faith in this process. This has to be a new council which has the best of One Somerset and the best of Stronger Somerset in order to deliver proper well funded services at the lowest level and retains hard working, loyal and experienced staff, and moves forward not backwards.”
The Minister responsible, Robert Jenrick , caused controversy last week when he approved 3 new unitary solutions across the country all which favoured ruling Tory groups. In Somerset and North Yorks a one unitary solution was imposed shoring up Tory majority control whilst, oddly, approving a 2 unitary solution in Cumbria -thereby removing a one county proposal-which just happened to be controlled by Labour and the Lib Dems….