Taunton Deane Borough Council has taken the historic first step towards merging with its neighbour, West Somerset Council, paving the way to being the first two district councils in the country to join forces to create a new, single authority.
Last night (Tuesday) councillors approved the recommendation proposed by Leader, Cllr John Williams. West Somerset Council is due to meet on September 7 to consider the proposal – one of three options on the table.
A new council, covering Taunton Deane and West Somerset geographical areas and with a new identity, would generate significant savings, estimated at a conservative £3.1 million a year. There would be costs involved to implement the merger but the payback is estimated at just over two years.
Both councils, who have been working in partnership with a single officer team for the past three years, requested a Business Case looking at options for the future of joint working and how further savings could be achieved by streamlining services and making them customer-focused – a process known as transformation.
Three options came before the council:
- ONE Team supporting two Councils (Taunton Deane Borough Council and West Somerset Council);
- ONE Team supporting a new merged Council;
- Two Councils progressing their own transformation agendas
In recommending the merger, Cllr Williams said:
“The proposal for transformation is radical and will bring change on a scale not seen before for our communities, our customers, our staff and ourselves as Members.
The decision is important, and will ensure we can continue to invest in our growth ambitions, deliver services to our public, and importantly, help us take a huge step towards having a financially sustainable future.”
He said if West Somerset decided against supporting the merger, it would inevitably trigger the third option with the councils taking separate routes to pursue their own agendas.
He underlined the Business Case had been reviewed by Local Partnerships, a company jointly owned by HM Treasury and the Local Government Association, who had found it realistic, deliverable and credible.
Cllr Williams said Local Government Minister Marcus Jones had made it clear that merger was his preferred route for the councils when they approached him to make a case for extra funding earlier this year.
If merger proposals are approved by West Somerset, meetings with Government representatives will be requested in order to kick-start the process and the creation of a new authority. This could come into existence in 2019 when the next local government elections are due.
“This is a giant step for us in Taunton Deane. I believe this is the right thing to do in the best interests of our combined communities, making us sustainable into the future. Our ambition is for the everyday services people rely on to both survive and thrive” said Cllr Williams.