A HOUSE of Lords committee says the Government 'risks alienating' Taunton Deane and West Somerset residents by dismissing their opinions regarding the proposed merger as just 'misconceptions.'

For the then-Secretary of State Sajid Javid to approve the merger, it needed to meet the criteria of having a “good deal of local support.”

However, consultation results showed that of the 152 members of the public who responded, 99 were against the idea while 53 supported it.

But the merger did have the backing of both councils, as well as support from Somerset County Council, 10 parish councils and the majority of the business sector and voluntary sector organisations that responded.

The main issues raised by those against the merger related to the ‘relative financial positions of the two councils’ and the belief residents of Taunton Deane would be subsidising West Somerset and, as a consequence, Taunton Deane residents would be disadvantaged in a variety of ways, including having to pay more council tax or receiving a reduced level of service.

However, the Government concludes that Taunton Deane residents are also likely to benefit from the proposal and labelled the concern as a ‘misconception’.

The Secretary of State Sajid Javid felt concerns over fair representation of each area would be addressed by a Local Government Boundary Commission review.

He also concluded that despite the majority of the ‘very small number’ who responded opposing the merger, their concerns were being addressed and the merger proposal meets the required criteria for having a ‘good deal of local support’.

The House of Lords scrutiny committee report concluded: “It is clear from the findings of the independent auditor that West Somerset District Council faces major financial difficulties and that the concerns on this score expressed by Taunton Deane residents are not unjustified.

“Projections of the financial benefits to both councils of the proposed merger are ‘jam tomorrow’, and to undermine the significantly negative outcome of the period for representations by talk of ‘misconceptions’ risks alienating those local residents who will be directly affected by the change.

“If a consultation exercise is to carry credibility, those who organise it must be open-minded about its results.”

Taunton Deane Councillor Ian Morrell said Taunton taxpayers would have to bear the brunt of West Somerset’s debt under the merger.

Cllr Morrell said: “The House of Lords committee has no axe to grind and are not amateurs.

“They have decades of political and professional expertise behind them. They talk good sense. That is why we need to take their report seriously.

"The most devastating criticism is aimed at the public consultation. "A majority of those who responded were dead against the merger. But TDBC and the government insultingly regarded their opinions as 'misconceptions' and ignored them.

"The committee concludes that this consultation lacked credibility – a fact understood by the fifteen councilors who undertook the Judicial Review.

"Unless Cllr John Williams and his team seek to continue damaging Taunton Deane, they need to stop the merger."

Cllr Mike Rigby added: “It is a damning report about issues that I and others have been raising for over a year.

“The consultation was a sham and the way the government has dismissed all the objections as irrelevant or says they have been dealt with is really crass.”