THE leader of a Somerset council spearheading the campaign to completely shake up local government across the county has been visiting smaller authorities to explain what’s what.

David Fothergill, leader of Somerset County Council, stopped by Wellington Town Council on Monday evening (March 2) to answer questions on the plan to abolish all councils across the district and instead replace them with one over-arching authority.

A recently commissioned report has outlined a number of plans to change the way local government works in Somerset.

SCC has backed plans for a unitary authority, whereas the four district councils prefer to maintain themselves but to pursue a closer working relationship.

Cllr Fothergill said: “The report shows doing nothing isn’t an option.

“The reason we have to change it because of what Somerset is going to look like.

“In 15 years time we will have 30 per cent of people over 65, and twice as many people over 85 than there is now.

“The county will significantly change.”

The council leader explain his hesitation over deciding to work closer together, as when the matter was rejected around 13 years ago, that was the route all parties involved went down. The ‘Pioneering Somerset’ project was not successful, in his view.

Cllr Fothergill explained to the Wellington town councillors how things would change for them under a unitary authority, and that creating a town council for Taunton would be one of the first actions.

“Why does Taunton determine what you charge for parking, or what you put your yellow lines.

“I want to come up with a range of options that invigorate towns and parishes.

“We can put together a really interesting authority.

“They can chose how far they want to get involved.”

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Some councillors express their concerns for the plans, and questioned how it would work for town councils.

Cllr Ross Henley said: “I have some concerns. Some bigger town councils may be able to take on more, but they won’t have the staff or the capacity.”

He also expressed issues over the report being carried out by consultant Ignite, which lead Taunton Deane Borough Council and West Somerset Council isn’t a disastrous merger.

Cllr Mark Lithgow echoed these concerns.

But cllr Fothergill reassured the councillors, saying he believes the figures are not accurate, and feels the projected savings costs and implementation costs should both be halved.

Cllr Marcus Barr also outlined his concerns on double taxation, which he believes in already happening in some cases, for example with the Park and Ride, and said he didn't think council tax would ever go down.

Cllr Barr said he feared services and assets would be taken away by the county council, but Cllr Fothergill said there would be no county council, and he himself may not even be involved if he isn’t re-elected.

Cllr Andy Govier came to the defence of the unitary plans, as he explained he felt it was the right decision.

As a district, town, and county councillor, he explained how many residents can get confused about what council does which, but is grateful to be able to help, no matter what hat he is wearing.

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Another councillor championing the unitary plans is cllr John Thorne. He was previously against the idea 13 years ago and remembers with great disdain South West One, which was meant to see the police and the council working together. He says he now recognises this as the option to bring about the necessary change.

Cllr Fothergill will be attending town and parish council meetings across the county to explain his plan of action, which will soon be backed up by a business plan.

He extended the invitation to hear alternative plans from the district councils, and reassured the councillors that an extensive public consultation will take place.