Communities Secretary Sajid Javid yesterday announced he was ‘minded’ to support two locally-led proposals for merging district councils in Somerset and Suffolk.
Taunton Deane Borough Council and West Somerset District Council submitted their proposal to become one district council in March 2017. Forest Heath District Council and St Edmundsbury Borough Council submitted a similar proposal in September 2017.
Taunton Deane and West Somerset have been working in a formal partnership since 2013, sharing a chief executive and a single set of staff. The partnership has delivered annual savings of £1.8m.
The two councils believe the new council, coupled with implementing new ways of working, will deliver a further £3.1m in savings every year.
Responding to the secretary of state’s support, the leaders of the two councils Cllrs John Williams (Taunton Deane) and Anthony Trollope-Bellew (West Somerset), said: ‘We welcome the secretary of state’s announcement that he is minded to approve the proposal for a single new council.
‘We have the support of partners, other councils in Somerset, key players in business and the voluntary sector – all play a vital part in the life of our two areas.
‘Our proposal will deliver further savings, service improvements and resilience, stronger leadership and improved local governance.
‘Ultimately it will deliver financially viable local government services in our area in the future.’
The new Suffolk authority would, according to Forest Heath and St Edmundsbury councils, generate around £800,000 in savings and efficiencies and help protect the additional £4m of annual savings already produced by sharing services.
‘We have listened to local residents and organisations who agree lines on a map or council structures should not get in the way of providing services or hamper us from seizing opportunities for continued investment in our communities,’ said St Edmundsbury Borough Council leader, Cllr John Griffiths.
Forest Heath District councillor James Waters, commented on the speed of Mr Javid’s decision which he said was ‘a clear indication of the strength of our case’.
Mr Javid commented: ’Before I take my final decisions on these proposed mergers there will now be a period until 19 January 2018 during which those interested may make further representations to me, including that if a proposal is implemented it is with suggested modifications.
‘The final decisions would also be subject to Parliamentary approval.’