A single, unitary authority for Somerset would deliver a predicted saving of £35-£47m, according to new research.
Commissioned by four district councils and Somerset CC, the report by external consultants the Ignite Consortia said a second model involving the councils working closely together would deliver predicted savings of £10m-£32m.
The report was commissioned by Mendip DC, Sedgemoor DC, South Somerset DC and Somerset West & Taunton Council, along with the county council as part of discussions over the future shape of local government in the county.
But an internal team drawn from the five councils - the Somerset Internal Consultancy Team - published its own papers which said that while the 'one unitary' option would save £47m, a collaborative 'get fit and share - and then new ways of working model' would save £32-£48m. A spokesman for South Somerset DC said this internal analysis was 'based on more up to date analysis' than the figures in the Ignite Consortia report, which 'date from an analysis completed in January 2019'.
Millions of pounds more could be spent on frontline services such as bus routes, new schools and climate change work if Somerset changes the way its councils operate, the Ignite Consortia research has concluded.
It suggests a variety of options that would save money, cut waste and reduce duplication, ranging from councils simply working closer together to the abolition of all the authorities and the creation of one new ‘unitary’ authority – as seen in places such as North Somerset, Bath & North East Somerset, Dorset and Wiltshire.
The councils have agreed to work to achieving changes by 2022. The next step will be to develop a business case for the collaborative work, with public reports going before the councils next month.
In a question and answer document published today, the leaders of the four district councils said the councils 'do not believe a unitary council is right for Somerset' - and that there was 'no evidence that the unitary councils that have been created have produced the financial savings they were forecast to save'. Many have left a 'democratic deficit - being distant from the communities they are meant to serve', the document added.
Somerset CC leader, Cllr David Fothergill welcomed the publication of the Ignite Consortia report and underlined his view that a single, unitary authority for Somerset would be the best route forward.
‘It’s the right thing to do,’ he said. ‘We can no longer stay quiet on a report that offers so much potential investment for our residents, businesses and communities. Extra money, from new schools, better roads, investing in climate change, more buses; there’s so much we could do with funding on this scale.
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