SOMERSET West and Taunton Council (SWT) is on the offensive as the district faces the very real possibility of abolition to be subsumed into a unitary.

Is it any wonder that the CEO of SWT, James Hassett, has decided to leave after just two and a half years in office?

I have no doubt that other senior officers/staff will be considering their positions, as there are no certainties.

The sad truth is local government has been emasculated by central government under the current Tory administration.

It has very few real powers, and can only act as the implementer of government policies, planning being one example!

The land at Orchard Portman and Stoke St Mary (the home of both local Conservative MP Rebecca Pow and Leader of Somerset County Council David Fothergill), where 16,000 houses could be imposed by the government, being just one such case.

Local councils are now also totally dependent on generating their own funding to survive.
The funds raised from local businesses and residents are insignificant now.

Central government has forced councils towards commercial property investment as the only way to continue to deliver essential services.


READ MORE: Somerset West and Taunton Council CEO to stand down
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In my opinion, councils should be granted full control over council tax, business rates and charges to allow them to raise, spend and invest what they need to help their areas thrive. They should also be allowed more discretion in how they manage their budgets than the current fiscal rules allow.

With some businesses facing an uncertain future, many places across the country are struggling. Local government, with its detailed knowledge, is best placed to be the driver of their recovery.

The upcoming white paper (on how councils can reshape local public services to meet the need of next spending review) now needs to give local councils the tools to act on this knowledge.

The more locally decisions are taken, the better informed they will be – and the more scope there is to empower residents.

A single Somerset wide council certainly will not be local. The Covid crisis has highlighted the value of local involvement.

In summary, it is far from clear that further consolidation would improve resilience, accountability or financial sustainability.

When it comes to reorganising local government, economies of scale are much harder to achieve in practice than theory.

Our experience of the last Conservative merger with West Somerset Council, only two and half years ago, was that it wasted £10.25m.

This latest unitary idea will also take a long time to bed in, is already predicted to cost a further £18m, which is likely to become over £30m with a loss in that process of many senior staff, such as our own CEO.

All this, so that Tories can control all layers of government creating a single party state, with little accountability.

CLLR HABIB FARBAHI
Lib Dem
Somerset West & Taunton Council