Last week saw an announcement from the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government that Somerset is to undergo a changing of local government to a ‘unitary’ model. Two proposals were being considered; the ‘Stronger Somerset’ case for creating an East and West Somerset and the disbandment of the current County Council, and the ‘One Somerset’ case of disbanding all District Councils – including Mendip and Somerset County Council – and creating one new Council to take all their places. The government opted for the latter. Technically still awaiting parliamentary approval, it’s highly likely this is the structure that will be installed. So, what does it really mean for us, the residents of Shepton?
Well, if there’s one thing nearly everyone agrees on, it’s that the current structure of having three levels of local government (Town, District and Council) is both inefficient and confusing. It means, if you were to open your front door and spot a pothole in the street, you would have to report it to County. But if you saw your recycling had not been collected, you would report it to District. But if the public bin across the street needed emptying, you’d call the Town Council! Clearly, a simplification of services should be beneficial.
What happens now? In terms of timelines, from May 2022, a ‘shadow’ authority is elected to start the formal process of establishing the new responsibilities for asset ownership and service provision and the setting up of the new (likely to be called) Somerset Council. The current Somerset County Council and Mendip District Council will be disbanded in May 2023.
A key opportunity from this process is not just (hopefully!) a long term simplification of our local government as explained above, but more services and assets devolved to Shepton Mallet Town Council. Time and again it has been proven that the more local a service becomes, the more in-tune to its residents needs and wants it is. There is now a huge opportunity for our Town Council to review what services it would like devolved to it and playing a proactive role in the development of the new Somerset Council. There will be many challenges ahead; fundamentally improving services whilst maintaining value for tax payers will be key. Ensuring our part of the county has it’s voice heard will be another; money follows money and there is already huge amount of investment happening in Taunton, Bridgewater and the M5 corridor so we need to make sure we are not forgotten! We need a clear plan on what we want for Shepton and now marks a big opportunity for us to shape our destiny.
Until next time.
Matt Harrison, Chairperson