Staff found out about plan to axe councils ‘on the way to work’

PUBLISHED: 06:23 09 May 2018 | UPDATED: 07:12 09 May 2018

The council leader believes the changes will save money.

The council leader believes the changes will save money.

Archant

Major changes proposed to local government in Somerset have been criticised for not being properly discussed.

As reported in last week’s Mercury, Somerset County Council leader David Fothergill wants to consider axing six councils and replacing them with one body. Those affected are Taunton Deane Borough, West Somerset, South Somerset, Sedgemoor and Mendip councils, along with his council.

But the idea has not gone down well with other councils.

Mendip leader Harvey Siggs is ‘surprised and saddened’ the media learned of the idea before he did.

He said: “Unfortunately, many of our staff learned about this via the media on their way into work, which is not how we would wish such a sensitive issue to be communicated.”

The shake-up would see an estimated £18-28million saved each year, through measures such as reducing the number of chief executives and councillors.

Cllr Siggs said he has a ‘great team of staff and councillors’ and has tried to put minds at ease following the unexpected announcement.

He said: “It has now made an already difficult discussion yet more difficult, and we don’t believe this should have been the case.

“Clearly Somerset council has been putting time and resource into this for some weeks, so it is surprising this has been sprung on us, and fellow districts, without warning.

“We will treat the issue seriously, to see how we can best serve our communities, and we will willingly explore each and every option.”

Sedgemoor District Council has called for a proper debate.

Its spokesman said: “We are surprised and disappointed with the announcement from Somerset and the way its intentions have been communicated via the media rather than in a collaborative manner.”

The idea was last considered a decade ago and James Heappey is happy to see it revisited.

The Wells MP said: “After 10 years, its right the unitary authority genie is allowed out of the bottle again.

“Councillors and MPs owe it to those we represent to look again at whether we’re delivering the best possible public services in the most efficient way.

“Much has changed in the past 10 years and so this renewed debate is to be welcomed.”

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