By Helen Tilton, Associate
MHCLG was busy issuing significant information in mid-July, in something of a pre-Summer Recess flurry. Among the announcements, a written statement was issued confirming the restructuring of three councils, including Somerset.
Somerset County Council’s re-organisation into a single county unitary (“One Somerset”) spells defeat for the bid by the four districts in the county for a two-unitary solution, Western Somerset and Eastern Somerset (“Stronger Somerset”).
Should we be in any way surprised by the “One Somerset” outcome? As we have previously reported, from a consultation and PR perspective it has been an unfortunately messy exercise locally. It’s no surprise that the principle of the poll was criticised by Robert Jenrick and by the County Council – it’s not hard to see why it could have been viewed as an attempt to frustrate and de-rail the government’s official consultation (and of course, a vote/poll and a consultation are two very different exercises). Perhaps the poll would have carried more weight if it hadn’t erroneously included the spoof version of the One Somerset website? We may never know how much it influenced the poll outcome – where voters had favoured an East and West Somerset.
The proposals will still require parliamentary approval, but all the new unitary authorities are due to be formed from 2023, with elections for shadow councils taking place in May next year.