County leader defends unitary bid costs
THOUSANDS of pounds of council taxpayer's money was spent on a failed bid for unitary status. Somerset County Council spent £149,000 on putting together a proposal for a single-tier authority, which would have meant that five district councils, including
THOUSANDS of pounds of council taxpayer's money was spent on a failed bid for unitary status. Somerset County Council spent £149,000 on putting together a proposal for a single-tier authority, which would have meant that five district councils, including Sedgemoor and Mendip, would have been scrapped.The council applied for unitary status after the publication of a Government White Paper in October last year. Somerset was told last week that its bid had failed. The council has decided not to appeal against the decision and insists the cash used to put the bid together was not wasted. Council leader Jill Shortland has defended the amount spent, which was divided between staff costs, production and distribution of information leaflets, consultant fees, office and administration costs and consultation events.She said: "A lot of excellent work and research into services and efficiency was carried out as part of the submission process."This work will be put to good use as we look to the future with our district colleagues. It is imperative that we find new ways of working."Ms Shortland added that Cornwall County Council spent £200,000 on its own unitary bid, a figure which did not include staff costs.As part of the single-tier bid, the county council also set up area working panels in an attempt to deliver services at a more local level. Panel meetings, made up of county councillors, could be attended by district and parish councillors as well as members of the public. Although it is not yet clear how the panels will continue, as they were supposed to be an alternative to district councils had the bid been accepted, councillors from both county and district authorities will be looking at what form they will now take.