THE Government looks sure to give the go ahead to the merger of two councils.

Communities and Local Government Secretary Sajid Javid says he is in favour of Taunton Deane Borough and West Somerset Councils being scrapped and a new single authority set up.

A period of consultation will now take place before the proposals are voted on in Parliament.

In a statement just released, Mr Javid said: "I am announcing today (Thursday) that having carefully considered all the material and representations I have received, I am ‘minded to’ implement two locally-led proposals for merging district councils in Somerset and Suffolk.

"The first of these is a proposal Taunton Deane Borough Council and West Somerset District Council submitted to me in March 2017 to merge into a new, single district council.

Somerset County Gazette:

"The second is a proposal Forest Heath District Council and St Edmundsbury Borough Council submitted in September 2017 similarly to merge into a new, single district council.

"I am satisfied, on the basis of the information currently available to me, that each of these proposals fully meets the criteria that I told the House on 7 November 2017 (Official Report, 7 November 2017, col 48WS) I would use for assessing proposals for merging district councils, namely that:

  • the proposal is likely to improve local government in the area concerned;
  • the proposal commands local support, in particular that the merger is proposed by all councils which are to be merged and there is evidence of a good deal of local support;
  • and that the proposed merged area is a credible geography, consisting of two or more existing local government areas that are adjacent, and which, if established, would not pose an obstacle to locally-led proposals for authorities to combine to serve their communities better and would facilitate joint working between local authorities.

"Before I take my final decisions on these proposed mergers there will now be a period until 19 January 2018 during which those interested may make further representations to me, including that if a proposal is implemented it is with suggested modifications.

"The final decisions would also be subject to Parliamentary approval."

But what does it all actually mean? 

The two councils tried to avoid using the term 'merger' as the proposal would see the creation of a brand new council (Taunton & West Somerset District Council? We'll see). 

The idea was propsed to take the next step after working together for the past three years through joint management and sharing services, which they said has led to £1.8 million annual savings.

Both councils voted in favour of the plans in 2016, but the decision was left with Sajid Javid. 

Sajid Javid said he is 'minded to' approve it, but this isn't the final decision. 

Interested parties can have their say on the plans until January 19, 2018, and after that, it'll be down to parliament to approve. 

Reasons in favour of the new council: 

The two councils say that the new joint venture will save money. If the plans don't go ahead, 'essential' services could be put at risk. The council estimates it will see £3.1million worth of savings. 

The proposal would see fewer councillors elected, which the councils say would lead to less 'red tape' and would help maintain frontline services. 

Fewer council meetings will save time and money. 

Reasons against the new council:

There was no public vote on the merger, which some people would consider undemocratic. 

Fifteen Taunton Deane councillors, activing privately, challenged the merger in a judicial review. This was dismissed by the High Court. 

MP Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater and West Somerset) says it will cause West Somerset Council to 'disappear'. 

Fears that Taunton Deane tax payers will have to 'bail out' West Somerset. TDBC Leader John Williams said in July 2016: "West Somerset, through no fault of its own, is facing a tougher financial future. The partnership with Taunton Deane is delivering more than £300,000 a year in savings."

What happens next? 

According to the council's website, following the decision, transitional arragements will be put in place throughout 2018. 

The new council would be created in early 2019. 

Councillors would be elected in early 2019.