Rupert Cox: Talking politics

Rupert Cox

Rupert Cox - Credit: Archant

Our columnist votes for a unitary council for Somerset

Somerset needs just one council – not two tiers of local authority. There, I’ve said it! A unitary council for Somerset is long overdue. The nettle should have been grasped in 2007 when we last had the opportunity to vote on the issue. I was a district councillor on South Somerset District Council at the time and I recall the debates on the subject that could have been best described as turkeys not voting for Christmas.

So why does it matter? It matters because governments of all political persuasions are keen on making local government more efficient and to avoid duplication. Those councils who chose not to support this way of thinking have been continuously strangled into submission by constant cuts or freezing of local council budgets.

The issue for me is quite simple. All I want from my local council(s) is to educate my children, keep my children safe, help me to care for my ageing parents, pick up my household rubbish, control and manage the growth of the built environment, provide some recreational facilities and keep the roads up to scratch. I don’t care who does the task in hand. Now, I appreciate this is a very simplistic and selfish attitude to take, but I would argue with anyone that this is the basic requirement of our local council(s).

Democracy and accountability is important, but do we need six councils in Somerset? There’s one county council and five district councils, as well as all the parish and town councils each with a paid clerk and in some cases a considerable workforce all choosing to raise our precept (local tax) year on year. There are 300 county and district councillors sitting on a plethora of committees discussing the same issues surrounded by an ever-decreasing number of stressed officers who would much prefer to be getting on with the job of running a council. The argument has been polarised following the elections on May 4 with 30 per cent of county councillors being what is known in the trade as ‘twin-hatters’ by being an elected councillor on more than one council.

We don’t have to look far away from our border to see what else is going on. Cornwall and Wiltshire both ‘went unitary’ in 2007, with North Somerset, Bath & North East Somerset, South Gloucestershire and Bristol all being unitary councils since the demise of Avon in 1996. Torbay and Plymouth both have unitary councils as does Bournemouth & Poole.

The time has come for us to re-examine precisely what we, the paying customer, want from our local authority and create just one democratic entity to set the strategy for delivering what is required and appoint the right people to make it happen.

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One council for Somerset – let’s make it happen!

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