A TOTAL of 145 jobs will be lost as a result of merging two Somerset councils.

Somerset West and Taunton Council will take over from Taunton Deane Borough Council and West Somerset Council on April 1, 2019.

Staff at the existing councils are being asked to apply for new positions at the new authority or take voluntary redundancy.

The new authority has had to ask for more money from both of the current councils after more people took redundancy than was originally predicted.

It has asked its two predecessors for just over £3m for redundancies and running costs, even though it will not start delivering services until 2019.

One member of the new authority has described the situation as a “mess”.

In order to meet the higher-than-expected cost of redundancies, the new council has asked for an additional £2.37m for its transformation programme.

Of this, £507,000 will come from West Somerset’s general reserves, with the remaining £1.88m coming from Taunton Deane’s general reserves and its housing revenue account.

In addition, officers requested a further £685,000 for additional running costs during the transition period.

Of this, £121,000 will be provided by West Somerset and £564,000 by Taunton Deane – bringing the total amount to £3.072m.

Penny James, the chief executive of the two current councils, defended the requests at a meeting of the new authority’s shadow scrutiny committee in Williton on Monday evening (November 26).

She admitted the redundancy costs were “off-target” compared to the original business case, and that their estimates of how many staff would opt for redundancy were “too conservative”.

She added: “The return on investment or payback remains on track for the three-year period. The redundancy costs have now by and large crystallised.

“The new baseline costs still deliver you a return of investment within three years, so it remains an attractive business case for you.”

Ms James added the additional investment would increase the amount of money being saved annually in service delivery from around £3.1m to £3.5m.

One of the major changes from the original business case was the decision to retain a designated labour organisation (DLO) – staff which carry out building and housing maintenance on council-owned properties in Taunton Deane.

Ms James said the DLO had not been originally included because of the model on which the original business case had been based.

She added: “When we started to do the detailed organisation design… it just then struck us that we were missing a trick.”

Councillor Rosemary Woods was deeply critical of the current state of affairs, describing it as “a mess”.

The Conservative councillor for Watchet in West Somerset said:  “All the time, this is a council that has to provide services. Did you not realise that? You have to keep the council’s services running even during this transition period.

“I cannot understand the mess we’ve got into. I am disillusioned.”

Ms James responded that it had been difficult to predict how many staff would leave the council, and from which departments.

She explained: “Of course we knew there would be some transitional challenges and costs. What we didn’t know, because of the route we decided to take, is where that disruption would happen.

“You’re inviting everyone to apply for a new role that doesn’t exist. You cannot predict whether people will apply for a new role, whether they will stay in their existing position, or whether they will leave.

“It’s not about the staff numbers, it’s about where they come from – and we didn’t know where they would come from.”

Staff were given the option of applying for up to three new roles within the new council – or could opt for redundancy if they did not want to be part of the new way of working.

A total of 24 people left the new organisation in September, and a further 121 will be leaving by the end of February 2019.

Councillor Federica Smith-Roberts said: “I have always been on board with transformation – the end goal, and what we are hoping to achieve excites me.

“What I struggle with is being told this far down the line that we are this far over-budget and how we tell the public this is an acceptable thing."