A PLAN for two unitary councils in Somerset has been supported by one of the current authorities.

At a virtual meeting of the full council on Thursday (September 10), Mendip District Council (MDC) discussed the rival business cases outlining potential futures for local government in Somerset.

The One Somerset plan focuses on creating a single unitary authority for the county, whereas Stronger Somerset looks to create two councils.

Both options would see the current five councils - Somerset County Council and the four district councils - abolished.

And councillors on MDC voted in support of the Stronger Somerset plan, with 33 council members in favour and eight against.

Outlining the Stronger Somerset case was Councillor Ros Wyke, leader of MDC.

She said: “Our bid is not reorganisation, instead, it is reform of local government.

“We believe these two unitaries will be able to better serve our communities. New organisations with new boundaries, new ways of working and a new culture.

“Somerset faces two demanding challenges: 25 per cent of children live in poverty and we have a growing elderly population who need support and much of that, as we found out during Covid, is not being addressed.

“I am focusing on these two services because they make up 65 to 70 per cent of the county’s budget and what is worse, they are unpredictable.

“We’re proposing a children’s trust, a total reset of services to address prevention and improve care, and also reduce costs.

“We plan to invest upfront in prevention initiatives for social care.

“Our bid is more than just efficiency and cuts, it provides the means that we have responsible and effective services with sustainable savings.

"It is a very, very robust bid and something we should all stand behind and support.

"And without a doubt, I recommend the stronger Somerset BID to the council.”

However, not all councillors were on board with the Stronger Somerset business case.

Many were worried about the lack of concern for the ongoing issues in the UK; Brexit, Covid-19 and the environmental crisis.

“We have Brexit, we have post-Covid and a host of inadequacies in Somerset, but I am a wee bit concerned we might be singing to the Conservative Government's tune,” said Cllr Garfield Kennedy.

“The elephant in the room is climate change which cannot be done without substantial investment.

“We’re never going to deliver a future that is going to be decent for our grandchildren. We might not even deliver a future for our grandchildren. I am really concerned about that.

“We are facing the biggest challenges of our generations and yet we’re saying we can do it cheaper and better. And I am sorry, I am sceptical.”

Cllr Lindsay MacDougall added: “The Stronger Somerset economic/business angle is not ambitious enough on green objectives; we cannot carry on 'business as usual'.

“It is of concern that we are seemingly expected to approve of a move that is designed to save money. Surely we need to stop putting the profit/ financial motive as top of our priorities and allow people/ environmental concerns at least an equal footing?”

But some councillors were happy with the proposals as long as there will be transparency and trust during the process.

“I think the Stronger Somerset option does create opportunities and challenges,” said Cllr John Clarke.

“This is an opportunity to reinvent local government and to engage in a meaningful way with our communities. It is about giving them a voice.

“The challenges I would see is that there has to be absolute transparency, we have to establish something that I believe is lacking in our democratic processes and that is trust.

“And if we can achieve that trust and the confidence, then the opportunities are greater.”

The councillors who voted in favour were: Rob Ayres, Alison Barkshire, Adam Boyden, Joshua Burr, Simon Carswell, John Clarke, Shane Collins, Nick Cottle, John Cousins, Michael Dunk, Drew Gardner, Michael Gay, Peter Goater, Francis Hayden, Edric Hobbs, Damon Hooton, Chris Inchley, Helen Kay, Garfield Kennedy, Liz Leyshon, Barbi Lund, Lindsay Macdougall, Matt Martin, Barry O’Leary, Sam Phripp, Richard Pinnock, Janine Nash, Tom Ronan, Heather Shearer, Helen Sprawson-White, Lois Rogers, Lucy Taylor-Hood and Ros Wyke.

The councillors who voted against were: Eve Berry, Shannon Brooke, John Greenhalgh, Philip Ham, Tom Killen, Terry Napper, Mike Pullin and Nigel Woollcombe-Adams.

To find out more about Stronger Somerset visit strongersomerset.co.uk and for more on One Somerset, visit onesomerset.org.uk.