PLANS to create a unitary authority in Somerset could create a council “larger than the country of Luxembourg”, a district council leader has warned.

Somerset County Council leader David Fothergill announced his intentions in late-February to put forward a business case to abolish Somerset’s five existing councils in favour of a new unitary.

The four district councils have taken a different path to date, favouring closer integration of services (e.g. a shared back room staff for planning) while remaining separate councils.

Now Duncan McGinty, the Conservative leader of Sedgemoor District Council, has spoken out openly against Mr Fothergill’s proposals, describing it as “an old solution to old problems.”

Mr McGinty’s comments were published ahead of a meeting of the full council, which was originally due to take place in Bridgwater on Wednesday afternoon (March 25) but was cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak.

He said: “A Unitary Authority is an old solution to old problems. It would be geographically and administratively huge and distant from the communities it needs to serve.

“Unitary authorities rarely make the savings they promise, by which time it is too late.”

Mr McGinty said closer working between the districts could eventually lead to “super-districts and a larger combined authority” which could deliver savings in children’s services and adult social care.

He said: “I admit that this is a new approach, but given the county council’s current financial stability, [it is] one that should be explored, and the district councils will do so.

“We have set up a high-level team which is tasked with delivery at its heart – rather than the county’s proposal which would create a mammoth council larger than the country of Luxembourg.”

Luxembourg currently has a population of approximately 614,000, according to the nation’s official statistics.

Somerset’s population in 2018 – the most recent figures available – was a little over 559,000.

The Future of Local Government in Somerset (FOLGIS) report, which was finally published in January, envisions a unitary authority consisting of between 100 and 125 councillors – compared to around 300 which currently serve across the county and district councils.

The final number of councillors would be determined by the Local Government Boundary Commission for England in the run-up to the new authority’s first elections.

Mr McGinty concluded: “We are a rural county and each area has different needs. One size does not fit all in Somerset.”