Following the local, mayoral and Police & Crime commissioner elections last Thursday across the country, there will be a chance for the people of Somerset to make their voices heard in the coming weeks.
In the next few days, you will receive a pack in the post asking for your views on how councils work across our county.
For many people, the differing levels of government can be confusing – what does a parish council do, compared to a district or county council? Who is charge of collecting your rubbish and who funds the schools or roads? In reality, most of these services are delivered by local councils, though it isn’t always easy to work out which one.
Currently in Somerset, there is one county council, and four district councils. There are many more parish, city and town councils of varying sizes – there are 62 in the Mendip area alone.
A couple of years ago, the Secretary of State in Westminster decided that the way we’re governed must change, and that Somerset should instead have unitary councils – one stop shops that deal with all local services in one place. While my view, as leader of Mendip, was that we shouldn’t be rearranging things, particularly with Covid-19 impacting local services. However, it was made abundantly clear; no change was not an option.
All of that accepted, we’ve followed government guidance and there are now two options on the table for local people to consider.
The proposal put forward by Somerset County Council, One Somerset (onesomerset.org.uk), would see the abolition of all four district councils and the county council, creating a single council stretching all the way across the county, from Minehead to Yeovil, Burnham to Frome.
Then there is Stronger Somerset (strongersomerset.co.uk), a cross-party proposal submitted by the district councils. This would see two councils, one to the East and one to the West.
I believe this proposal makes sense, both economically and geographically. The proposal represents a fresh start, reforming the way services are delivered, with an emphasis on good services delivered locally at a fair cost to the taxpayer. There has also been a lot of thought about how these two new councils would work with the towns, city and parish councils.
The four Somerset district councils recently voted overwhelmingly in favour of giving the people of Somerset an opportunity to give a view on which of the two proposals they prefer through an advisory poll. Residents on the electoral register will all be receiving in the post a voting form in the coming days. You will have the chance to send in a postal vote (a pre-paid envelope will be provided) or to cast your vote securely online. The poll is being conducted independently by Civica Election Services. The outcome of the poll will be forwarded to the Secretary of State who is making his decision on the Somerset proposals by July.
An important question that many will raise, is the cost of this exercise; it’s an issue I’ve given much thought. The cost of the poll equates to the cost of a single postage stamp per voter, not a tiny cost, but, I believe, a small price to pay for an important decision such as this. It’s a decision that will impact so much in our lives, and it’s one that I feel you deserve a vote on.
I urge you to use your vote and make your voice heard on this most important decision.
Do get in touch if you have any questions, either on my email [email protected], or my Facebook page @Ros.Wyke.
Written by Cllr Ros Wyke, Leader of Mendip District Council
Please get in touch either on my Facebook page @Ros.Wyke or you can send me an email: [email protected].