What is a unitary council?

Moving to a ‘unitary council’ means there’ll be just one single council for the whole county. Somerset currently has two tiers of local government:

  • Somerset County Council, which is responsible for services including education, transport, social care, and children’s services; and
  • four district councils (Mendip, Sedgemoor, South Somerset and Somerset West and Taunton), which are responsible for services including environmental and housing services, planning and licensing.

Creating a new council offers a chance to combine their strengths to do more for the people of Somerset and simplify democracy. Since the 1990s many councils have taken this approach and Somerset will be leading the way for more to come.

Why is Somerset moving to a unitary council?

The Leaders of Somerset’s five councils all agree that change is needed. They put forward and debated options. The Government considered proposals and decided that a single unitary council should be created.

Our council Leaders have committed to working together for a new Somerset Council that:

  • frees up resources to invest in our communities and high-quality services;
  • grows Somerset’s voice nationally, helping to deliver the investment in business and infrastructure that our county deserves; and
  • drives action to tackle climate change.

The original business case for a single unitary authority is available here.

What will the new council be called?

Somerset Council.

When will the new Somerset Council start delivering services?

The new Somerset Council will be operational on 1 April 2023. That’s often referred to as ‘Vesting Day’.

Where will the new Somerset Council be based?

The key issue is how we devolve decision making and services to be as local as possible and how we use technology to open-up council services. We want to involve communities, parishes and towns in decisions about services, rather than focus on a central base.

How much money will this free up for high-quality public services?

A new Somerset Council is expected to deliver a range of benefits including freeing-up a projected £18.5million every year after the first two years, from reduced duplication and red-tape, to be invested in communities and high-quality public services. We are very confident that these efficiencies can be achieved.

When will those efficiencies be delivered?

Efficiencies will be delivered over the first year 2023/24 reaching the full £18.5million by year two, 2024/25, and every year thereafter.

How will the transition to a new council happen?

The Local Government Reorganisation (LGR) Programme has been set up to design the new council and manage the transition. The LGR Programme is governed by:

  • The LGR Joint Committee, comprising the five council Leaders and four Cabinet Members of the County Council. It is responsible for decision-making, overseeing the implementation plan and development of the new council’s constitution and budget.
  • Chief Executive Programme Board, comprising the five councils’ Chief Executives, the lead local authority Monitoring Officer and Finance Director and the LGR Programme Director. It drives the programme forward to deliver the agreed outcomes and benefits and provide assurance to the LGR Joint Committee that the programme is on track.
  • The LGR Advisory Board, comprising eight elected county and district members and representatives from Somerset Association of Local Councils, Somerset Society of Local Council Clerks, health, police, education and voluntary/community sector (Spark Somerset).
  • The LGR Scrutiny Committee, comprising of 16 members from the 5 councils. The committee will act as a critical friend overseeing the implementation plan.

County and district staff are working together to manage the transition, building on the strengths of each council.

Note: Councillors elected on 5 May 2022 will assume responsibility for the transition to the new council in collaboration with the four district councils. The unitary council will be established on 1 April 2023.

How can I have my say on the new council?

Already you can participate in meetings of the LGR Joint Committee and LGR Advisory Board – details are updated on our website: www.newsomersetcouncil.org.uk/meetings

You can also email the LGR programme team: info@newsomersetcouncil.org.uk

How will city, town and parish councils be involved in the new council?

Where they want to, city, town and parish councils will be front and centre in local decision making. They will have the opportunity to take on service responsibilities and assets Assets might include green spaces, buildings, sports facilities, markets, and other local properties. Services might include car parks, extended street cleaning, tourist information, leisure. We’re working closely with the city, towns and parishes and will hold a second conference for them in February.

How can we be sure a bigger council won’t lose touch with local communities?

We know that a big council needs a cast-iron way for local communities to have their say, so it doesn’t lose sight of what’s important to different towns and villages. With 15 to 20 representative and empowered Local Community Networks (LCNs), our new Somerset Council can be better at thinking locally.

What are Local Community Networks (LCNs) and why are they important?

LCNs will give communities power to influence decisions about their local area. They will be an important part of how our new Somerset Council works with formal power as ‘committees of the council’ – making sure that local areas will have an ongoing voice to shape their new council to suit their local needs.

LCNs will include city, town and parish councils, voluntary groups, NHS, schools, police, and other interested parties and residents. They will meet in local areas, in every part of the county. They’ll discuss what is most important for their area and work together, to agree how best to achieve it.

For more information visit https://newsomersetcouncil.org.uk/local-community-networks/

How many LCNs will there be?

When the new council opens, it’s thought that between 15 and 20 will be needed to connect and empower communities across the county.

Where are LCN pilots?

Pilot LCNs are already testing this new approach across Exmoor and in the Frome area, and there is another pilot starting in the Wincanton, Bruton and Castle Cary area.

When will elections to the new council take place?

Elections to the new council will take place next year 5 May 2022 for 110 councillors. They will assume responsibility for all local government functions for Somerset, including those of the current four district councils, in April 2023.

Two candidates will be elected for each existing electoral division of the county council, as well as a proposed new Glastonbury division and a new Street division with each of these electing two members for each division. It is anticipated that there will be a full boundary review after the May 2022 elections and ahead of the subsequent elections in May 2027.

The Government is also proposing that city, town and parish elections will be brought forward to 5 May 2022. It is proposed that councillors elected in May 2022 will have a five-year term of office. The Government’s intention is to ensure that local councils’ elections in Somerset remain aligned and that the subsequent elections are in 2027.