Reacting to the local government minister’s approval for plans to set up a single unitary local authority covering the whole of Somerset, Yeovil Constituency Labour Party Chair Terry Ledlie set out three simple tests for judging the success of the new council, which must:
improve the quality of local services for all parts of Somerset
not be more expensive than the existing system
treat council staff fairly
Terry Ledlie said, “We need to ensure that the new authority is not just a case of “shuffling the deckchairs”. Rather, it must be made to improve things for the people of Yeovil and all the towns and villages of south Somerset. Its easy to say what we need. A good unitary authority must deliver better local services and not cost significantly more than the present system. Further, council staff should be treated fairly during the merger process. They must be worried at the moment and that will affect morale.”
Risk of disruption
“The first challenge is that the new local authority will undoubtably face some turmoil during the merger process. There is a real risk that this disruption will damage the quality and delivery of local services and that they will be disrupted in some areas. This simply must not be allowed to happen.
“The second challenge is that there is also a real danger that the merger will raise costs in the next few years and that this will outweigh any projected financial savings. Somerset people do not want to see their council tax bills rising by 5 per cent year after year, as this would swamp the smaller increases in wages, pensions and benefits, making us all worse off.
“The third challenge is that this is a terribly worrying time for people working for our local councils. The process of setting up the new authority should be handled sensitively and bring certainty to staff as soon as possible. It already seems certain that the merger will lead to further job losses in our area, where unemployment is already rising. Councils must work with the local government unions to minimise the negative impacts
“ Local people are telling me that they are quite worried about what the future might hold for us in practice. The UK is still facing a public health emergency, the economy is shrinking and jobs are being lost. We will need our new local authority to step up to the plate and do all that it can to help restore prosperity. There are real concerns that the conflicting proposals from the county and district councils could make the merger something of a “shotgun wedding”. This would not be the best way to start the life of the new local authority. Unitary authorities work best when both parties actually want to join together. Somerset’s new local authority must overcome this hazard if it is really going to give us all the better deal that we deserve.”