COUNCIL leaders in Somerset are once again clashing over plans to create one authority in Somerset.

Somerset County Council, which is backing the plans for one 'unitary' authority in the county, is asking people to 'engage' with the plans, but has received backlash for showing a 'lack of empathy and judgement' over his timing.

The council says it will be surveying residents and businesses across the county to gain their views on the plans, which have proved to be contentious.

The county council maintains the unitary plan would save money and stop the confusion over which authority does what, among other reasons.

But the district councils would prefer to move forward with more team work, which also saves money, but to maintain separate councils in the interest of democracy and remaining 'local'.

Despite the disagreement, all parties involved admit that something needs to change.

Somerset County Council leader, David Fothergill,said: “Our focus has been, and continues to be on coronavirus and keeping people in Somerset safe. This goes without saying. However, as we move towards recovery we also need to be looking ahead and preparing to support our residents and businesses in uncertain economic times.

“The evidence shows there are significant benefits in removing five councils and replacing them with one – benefits which will support our communities going forward.

“We are continuing to develop our business case transparently so we can present it to Full Council in July. We want people to really understand what these benefits will mean to them and it’s important we gather the views of the public as best we can.”

But the district councils say that 'now isn't the time', with the focus being on supporting communities through the Covid-19 crisis.

READ MORE: Row brewing as councils disagree over plans to abolish districts in favour of one authority

Leader of Somerset West and Taunton Council, Federica Smith-Roberts, took this further, stating the push for the county council's plan was 'wrong' - adding that people are still dying and the economy is still facing unprecedented challenges..

She said: "Thousands of people don't know if they will have a job or an income next week or next month. Parents are worried about their children going back to school. Our High-Streets are still closed.

"Somerset West and Taunton has been at the forefront of the battle against the coronavirus - supporting our most vulnerable, helping businesses, keeping people safe.

"We've worked closely with our colleagues across Somerset and beyond. This work is still going on - every hour of every day. For the leader of SCC to decide that top of his list of priorities right now is to ask our community if they want a reorganisation of government in Somerset is extraordinary.

"To divert time and money to a pet project and to ask others to do the same shows a dangerous lack of awareness, of empathy and of judgement. We will look to the future of local government in Somerset when the time is right. That is not now. If Cllr Fothergill thinks it is then I'd ask that he considers his position so we can focus on looking after our communities.”

A joint statement for South Somerset, Somerset West and Taunton, Sedgemoor, and Mendip councils, added: “During the coronavirus crisis, the focus of our councils is to support our communities and businesses, particularly ensuring that those facing hardship receive all the help they need.

“We are looking after the vulnerable while helping to rebuild our economy and trying to build a better society.

“It was quite right that the five Somerset councils agreed to suspend any public campaigning in relation to the future of local Government in Somerset debate. There are other priorities right now.

“But we recognise that it remains an important and vital discussion as we need to achieve the best possible outcome for the residents of Somerset.

“We agree that change is needed and that the joint report from the five councils acknowledged that the well-trodden single unitary path was not the right option for our county.

“At this time, however, our focus remains on supporting our communities through the pandemic alongside helping our towns and villages recover. We will respond in full to the important Future Somerset conversation in due course."