An expert team from the Local Government Association (LGA) has commended work to create a new unitary council on 1 April this year. The new Somerset Council will replace Somerset County Council and the four district councils (Mendip, Sedgemoor, Somerset West and Taunton and South Somerset).
The team, including leading figures from local government around the country, reviewed the unitary plan and concluded that ‘everything is in place to ensure that Somerset Council will be a safe and legally functioning body from day 1, assuming the current progress and leadership is maintained.’
Cllr Val Keitch, Somerset County Council Executive Lead Member for developing the new council, said:
“This is a real vote of confidence in our team, working hard to give Somerset a great new council. This is all about better jobs, better care and better infrastructure. It will give us more tools to tackle big challenges, such as the climate and cost-of-living crises, while freeing up £18.5million every year for frontline services.
“The Local Government Association has been a great support, helping us to learn from others’ experience. This is an important project nationally; we are being watched and it’s now a chance to show that Somerset gets on and delivers the goods. We are not complacent, there’s a lot to do, but I am very proud of our team and excited for the opportunities ahead.”
The reviewers had access to programme documents and engaged with more than 70 council members, officers and stakeholders in December. They were encouraged by the commitment of council leadership and impressed by the hard work and collaboration of people across the five existing councils.
‘Impressive’ levels of programme rigour, governance and assurance were observed, along with clarity of purpose and clear deliverables. Risks were seen to be well understood and managed and the council team, it was said, ‘know their stuff’.
The report recommends that the council team begins to focus more on achieving the ambitions of the new council after it is launched. The reviewers advised that it will take time to unlock all the benefits of having a single unitary council and that long-term plans, for the next five years and beyond, should be developed.