Rupert Cox: Let’s talk about politics

Rupert Cox (c) Jeremy Long / JCL PHOTOGRAPHY

Rupert Cox (c) Jeremy Long / JCL PHOTOGRAPHY - Credit: Archant

Is our columnist on controversial ground this month with his topic for debate?

The hot political news from County Hall is that the leader, Cllr David Fothergill, thinks that a unitary authority will be good for Somerset.

He must had read my recent piece in Somerset Life in which I pleaded with our political masters to put the residents of Somerset first and create a unitary authority for Somerset.

Somerset and Devon are the ONLY parts of the South West that still operate the outdated and inefficient two-tier local government where county and district councils try to maintain services in isolation from each other. Cornwall, Plymouth, Torbay, North Somerset, Bristol, Bath & NE Somerset, Wiltshire, Swindon, Bournemouth & Poole and (soon-to-be) Dorset operate holistically.

From a taxpayer’s perspective I would suggest that all I need ‘my council’ to do is educate my children (although a lot of this is now done without the county council’s input), look after my elderly parents (although it is hard to get much help – I know, I tried), keep our roads in good order (and one could argue this is still not always the case), keep the public spaces clean, tidy and fit for purpose, control development (much of the ‘big stuff’ is now determined by government inspectors) and most significantly manage my waste.

This final criterion is where Somerset is quite excellent.

The Somerset Waste Partnership is a clear example of how a county-wide approach working with a private sector delivery partner has delivered a great service to the council taxpayer – an example that gives real credence to unitary working through just one council and not six, or is that five with Taunton Deane & West Somerset joining forces?

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The districts all tell us how well they are doing, but what they don’t say is that to maintain services they are all eating into their reserves, but won’t tell us for how long they can hang on before one of them goes bust – as nearly happened in West Somerset.

The county council has said things aren’t great with escalating costs associated with adult and social care becoming the major burden.

Locally, I have become the chairman of the parish council. Two district and county councillors attend each meeting but the public doesn’t know which question to ask each councillor as the public is not clear what service each council is responsible for.

The district councillor gets asked about highways and the county councillor gets asked about planning – both wrong; furthermore the county councillor is also a district councillor for another Ward.

The message from me is now quite clear; Get on with working toward a unitary authority for Somerset.

The Somerset Council will save 60 per cent of councillors, 40 per cent of senior managers, including only one CEO and not six and will save millions of pounds of duplication AND maintain the public reserves – as these reserves belong to us, the council taxpayer, and not the respective councils.

Rupert Cox is the CEO of the Royal Bath and West Society. For more from Rupert, follow him on Twitter! @rupert_rbw