REACTIONS are flooding in to the announcement that Government has backed the proposed merger of two district councils in Somerset. 

The leaders of Taunton Deane Borough Council and West Somerset Council have welcomed the Government’s announcement that it is “minded to” approve the creation of a new district council covering their areas.

Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, told Taunton Deane Borough and West Somerset Councils of his intention to allow the proposal to go forward, subject to a period of further representation until January 19, 2018, and Parliamentary approval.

Mr Javid said he was satisfied the proposal met the criteria he had set out when approving other submissions in Dorset and Suffolk on November 7.

The two councils have been working in a formal partnership since 2013, sharing a chief executive and a single set of staff – the One Team.

The partnership has delivered annual savings of £1.8 million used in Taunton Deane’s case to maintain important front line services.

For West Somerset, the savings have provided some financial stability, maintenance of services and resilience.

Last year both authorities agreed to propose creating a single new council to serve both geographical areas to deliver further savings to the public purse.

The new council, coupled with implementing new ways of working, will deliver a further £3.1 million in savings every year, vital to ensure future viability and sustainability of the new council.

In a joint statement, the leaders – 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.

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“This new council will make sure we can continue to deliver the services that our residents value, and allowing us to focus on boosting our economy, supporting the delivery of Hinkley Point C new nuclear power station and fully embracing the opportunity afforded by garden town status awarded to Taunton.

“We must also build on great natural assets that exist – Exmoor National Park, the coastline, Quantock and Blackdown Hills and the Somerset Levels”

The councils will now start the next stage of work in creating a new council in anticipation of a final, favourable decision from the Government.

“There is much that needs to be done,” said the leaders.

“We have to start making definitive plans that will make sure that a new council can be ready for business in May 2019, following local elections.

“Of course we cannot pre-empt the final decision but we must make sure we can continue to serve the people of Taunton Deane and West Somerset in the future."

But others aren't so happy with the news, as MP for Bridgwater and West Somerset has attacked the plans.

He said: “The amount of money needed to keep West Somerset going until it starts to collect business rates from Hinkley Point C is tiny – but it really does not seem to have been considered as an option,” he said.

“This is the worst of all possible deals for West Somerset and it is being imposed without local people being given any chance to say whether they are in favour or no.

“But it is clearly a bad day for local democracy – and I sincerely hope West Somerset people are prepared and ready to stand up and say so.”

Independent County Councillor Mike Rigby, who represents Bishops Lydeard at SCC, said: “If you wanted evidence that this merger is anything other than a political stitch-up to ensure that Taunton remains forever in Conservative hands, look at the Minister’s assertion that there is “a good deal of local support” for the plan. Where is it? Who, outside the cabal of Conservative councillors and their mates supports this? The public consultation was overwhelmingly against the proposal.”