SOMERSET County Council was debating whether to submit the One Somerset business case to create a unitary authority to the Secretary of State during a crunch meeting held yesterday.

It was eventually approved - and will now be sent to the Government for approval. If it is accepted by the Secretary of State, it could lead to Somerset's district councils and county council being dissolved and replaced by a single authority.

While the unitary authority plan is heavily championed by council leader David Fothergill and supported by the likes of Avon and Somerset Police and Crime Commissioner Sue Mountstevens and Arts Taunton founder and Castle Hotel owner Kit Chapman, it has been criticised by many of the district and town councils, as well as Bridgwater and West Somerset MP Ian Liddell-Grainger.

Here, Mr Liddell-Grainger has written extensively about why he believes not only is going unitary the wrong option for Somerset, but the way it has been handled has been purposefully rushed:

"THE speed with which “One Somerset” is being steamrollered through Somerset County Council is obscene.

On July 7 a detailed Business Case was published. A week later Somerset’s Scrutiny Committee approved it. Five days after that the Cabinet agreed. Now it has been approved at a full council meeting on July 29.

READ MORE: Big step toward unitary council as One Somerset business case approved

Would somebody please explain why the leader is in such a tearing rush?

This county is only just emerging from lockdown. The last thing on the public’s mind is local government reform. We have relatives to care for, jobs to save and a global pandemic to fight.

Why, in the name of decency and reason, didn’t Cllr Fothergill shelve the whole darned thing?

I fear that I already know the answer. Elections to the county council are due to be held next May and the risk of defeat makes all politicians edgy.

But just suppose One Somerset got government backing this autumn... the threat of the ballot box would be delayed for a whole year.

Is that why he is in such a hurry?

Mr Fothergill currently presides over a county council which is neither popular, well-led or efficiently managed. By a temporary miracle of accounting County Hall balanced its budget for the coming year, but this is a blip not a trend.

READ MORE: Somerset County Council leader on why a unitary authority is 'right for Somerset'

Somerset has been running on empty for at least a decade. It can only get worse.

This is partly due to the growing cost of providing social care for adults and children. The price of such important services has risen way beyond existing government grants.

In the long term there has to be a better way of dealing with such problems. But you will not find the answers anywhere in the 132 pages of the One Somerset business case.

Instead “One Somerset” is a simple idea – scrap the county council, ditch the districts, sell their buildings, sack surplus staff and then count the savings.

How much? Suddenly it all gets bogged down. Somerset County Council have already spent tens of thousands of pounds hiring no less than three different consultancies to put a figure on it.

The first “experts” reckoned the plan would save £47million. The second estimate was £25million. The current promise is £18.5million. And we all know that a promise is a promise; something reliable, and guaranteed.

However, all that changed the other morning when a Liberal Democrat councillor slipped a gentle question to Mr Fothergill during a video session of council proceedings.

She asked how all the promises contained in the One Somerset business case could be delivered. He hesitated before shooting himself in both feet: “Well the promises that are built into the One Somerset business case are of course NOT promises.”

Now we understand! The message could not be clearer. From this point forward it would be wise to take his utterances with a lorryload of salt.

He has been talking up One Somerset for two long years.

In a video interview with the County Gazette in 2018 he said his mind was “completely open” about how to reform local government in Somerset - adding that his firm personal preference was a single unitary authority.

How you can square an open mind with a firm personal preference is completely beyond me.

Mr Fothergill has become One Somerset’s most enthusiastic public advocate, trailing from Town Hall to village hall trying to persuade smaller councils that they will become more influential and be given new powers if they support One Somerset.

There is a drawback. New powers do not come with promises of new money.

And if you cannot rely on One Somerset promises (because they “are of course NOT promises”) then the lack of any binding financial incentive is surely an even greater reason to steer clear of offering support.

But the leader continues to do the rounds of the media studios and produces informational videos, all personally presented. He is beginning to make Piers Morgan look camera shy.

It all costs money. The leader hired a director from Wiltshire Council to write his business case. Directors do not come cheap. The total budget for promoting One Somerset may hit £1million.

I wish Mr Fothergill no ill. I agree that local government in Somerset is long overdue for intelligent investigation.

There have been too many quick fix reforms in the past. There are already two unitary councils covering parts of the traditional county, one of which is too small to survive.

Say what you like about the district councils, at least they have a reputation for stable financial management unlike Somerset County Council.

More to the point I believe the Secretary of State is fully clued-up and is unlikely to consider One Somerset as the only viable option.

Because it isn't.