A BISHOP'S Hull mum has launched a petition to stop Somerset County Council’s Conservative leaders using its 'failures' in special needs as an excuse to take over other authorities.

Bev Fernandes, whose son has Special Education Needs and Disabilities (SEND), said: "The claims from those running the County are truly disgraceful.

"To suggest inspectors found SEND services ‘dysfunctional’ simply because the Conservatives haven’t yet realised their dream of taking over other councils is disingenuous and an insult to families who have suffered at the hands of one of the worst performing county councils in the country."

She said the business case for a unitary authority in Somerset published by County Hall leader Cllr David Fothergill claims the major failings in SEND are "seen in other two-tier areas" and suggests taking over the county's district councils would improve the service branded "woefully slow" by Ofsted inspectors.

Mrs Fernandes added: "It is also hypocritical to suggest the appalling standards of support are due to failure to work with other councils.

"They talk about working 'across partners', but their partners when it comes to children with SEND are schools and social services which they already run, parents and young people and the NHS – nothing to do with district councils.

"Why they are using a document bidding for more power and the abolition of other authorities as an excuse for appalling frontline services is beyond me."

Ms Fernandes has started a petition in an attempt to block the merger of district and county councils, which it is claimed would cost £16.5million but reap future savings.

Cllr Simon Coles, who represents Taunton East at the county, said: "The Conservatives have run the county council into the ground and are now looking for new sources of money – such as the cash and assets held by district councils.

"Using the parlous state of their special needs provision as an excuse for a takeover is disgraceful.

"I’m particularly concerned about what they would do with our district’s council houses should they get their hands on them, given Conservatives’ support for selling them off."

Cllr Fothergill said a unitary authority would lead to improvements in services, reduce duplication, put Somerset communities at its heart and save taxpayers millions each year.

He added: "SEND services in Somerset are a responsibility of the NHS, schools as well as the county council and we are all determined to improve and work better together. One Somerset will enable that to happen better and faster.

"And let’s be clear, Somerset County Council is not one council taking over others. One Somerset will see all Somerset councils abolished, and a new unitary authority in its place.

"This has become the norm for many of our neighbours, many of which are reaping the benefits of a streamlined more efficient authority.

"Five county and district councils with different processes, politics and objectives leads to confusion and mess.

"One council for Somerset, all working together and closer than ever with partners and communities, will improve lives."