You may have seen there are proposals to reorganise the system of local government in Somerset. Wilstock and Stockmoor come under North Petherton Town Council area and there are currently no plans to change this. But they also come under Sedgemoor District Council and Somerset County Council.
This is called a two-tier system. Sedgemoor District Council looking after services like planning, housing, licensing and environmental health and Somerset County Council looking after Highways, Adult Social Care, Children’s Services and Public Transport. They currently co-operate well in areas like waste through the Somerset Waste Partnership. The councils have worked closely together during the pandemic.
But this system sometimes leads to confusion as to which council to contact, if an area of grass has not been cut, or a footpath is blocked or a street-light is out. When big planning permissions are given the councils need to talk together about how roads, schools and the health services will be planned. As we know they don’t always get it right and then unhelpfully point the finger at each other when things go wrong.
It is doubly confusing in Stockmoor and Wilstock as some of these services are still provided by the developer as the areas are in the beginning stages of being taken over by the councils. And there are two developers to make it more confusing.
The idea is – wouldn’t it be better if there was just one council running all these services? This is called a Unitary Authority. Most people agree that there are efficiency savings to be made by having a Unitary Authority.
Somerset County Council has proposed that it become the Unitary Authority for the whole of Somerset and its proposals can be found here: onesomerset.org.uk The County Council had well publicised funding difficulties a couple of years ago and the cost of providing care is rising.
The four District Councils in Somerset have put together their bid – called Stronger Somerset – to form two unitary councils, placing Sedgemoor in “Western Somerset” along with Somerset West and Taunton Council. More information can be found here: www.strongersomerset.co.uk They are more secure financially but still have funding pressures.
All your three Sedgemoor District Councillors voted for the Stronger Somerset case and this is supported by North Petherton Town Council too. I voted against the One Somerset proposal at Somerset County Council – I think we need to keep local government local. Big enough to cope, but small enough to care. Somerset is a vast area and I think it is just too big.
These changes will affect all of us. The councils are looking for the public to engage in their ideas and there will be a consultation later in the autumn. You might like to get involved.
The question I and many others have asked though: Is it the right time to reorganise our councils in the middle of a pandemic?
Written by Councillor Bill Revans
Somerset County Councillor and Sedgemoor District Councillor for North Petherton