LOCAL politics has been hijacked for most of this year, despite the priority that must be given to delivering an effective response to the Covid pandemic, by the ongoing debate about the future structure of local government.

While there is cross-party support for something better than the present system, there has been little appetite for any costly administrative reorganisation at this time of crisis.

Nothwithstanding, and despite not having been required or even invited to do so, the Tory Leader of SCC fired the starting gun by publishing the SCC's vision for a single unitary authority for the whole of Somerset.

This necessarily required a response and it is good to know that, following discussion by all four of the district councils, Stronger Somerset, which calls for two unitary authorities divided east/west instead of the single monster recommended by One Somerset, has now been endorsed by each district council.

That at least means that the Local Government Minister will have to consider an alternative to what SCC is attempting to foist onto a county with a population projected to exceed 600,000 by 2030, with local conditions and issues very different in say Porlock to what they are in Frome.

While it may be correct that the average voter takes little interest in how local government is structured, any (further) deterioration in services would rightly be met with complaints.

READ MORE: What you need to know about plans for a unitary authority in Somerset
READ MORE: Business case for TWO unitary authorities in Somerset revealed

I'm sure I'm not alone in believing the One Somerset proposals, which require the replacement of 269 county and district councillors with 100 unitary councillors; and much service delivery devolved to local community networks, whatever they are (One Somerset is not forthcoming), is principally motivated by an opportunistic attempt to grab power back by the Tories under a thinly disguised veneer of saving costs.

So the good news is that there is a debate to be had focus on how best to deliver the services that our communities require and the initiatives that are needed to improve the quality of life in our communities, by providing better housing, social care and rebooting our economy.

We are, to some extent, having to speculate on what the next steps will be and when.

The Boundary Commission has yet to report and the Government's long-expected White Paper on the future of local government has still to appear, reinforcing the view that the SCC Leader's initiative carries with it an alternative agenda.

With Stronger Somerset as an alternative supported by all four of the district councils, we have an opportunity to find a way forward with more transparent and better decision making directed towards what is important to local communities and to put a stop to a Tory-engineered solution that regards opposition to anything other than what the Tories want as simply collateral damage; and to deliver the more ambitious vision that is encapsulated in a Stronger Somerset - the clue is in the name.