At tonight’s meeting of Bridgwater Town Council, councillors voted to back the 2-Unitary solution offered by Stronger Somerset and rejected the single county bid fronted by Somerset County Council. Bridgwater Town Council is a Labour run authority with Conservative opposition but all councillors were united in supporting the motion which was proposed by Leader of the Council Cllr Brian Smedley (Labour, Westover) and seconded by Cllr Gill Slocombe (Con, Wyndham). Cllr Smedley said “Our position has always been that more power should be concentrated at the most local levels and Towns and Parishes taking on more service delivery is the way forward. One gigantic Somerset county will be far too remote from local communities and elected members will be virtual unaccountable despots ruling over distant fiefdoms. Of the bids on offer, it is clear that the towns, parishes, and most of the political groups back Stronger Somerset. It’s only a comfy born to rule clique of out of touch high Tories that seem to want ‘One Somerset’. Political balance and proportionality will go out of the window if they get their way and I’m really pleased that Sedgemoor Tories and Lib Dems see eye to eye with us on this one. They know the value of people being represented at the locallest level and communities having a real say in their affairs and not being dictated to from on high”.
The Unitary debate has been ‘on the table’ if not ‘raging’ for the past year or so after Somerset County Council jumped out of line with the 4 districts who were working together on a common solution, to go their own way. Many saw it as a power grab or an asset grab on the cash rich districts while County famously teetered from crisis to crisis. As a result County were quick off the mark with the ‘One Somerset’ model and employed paid consultants to bolster their case. Bridgwater Town Council early on in the proceedings backed the position taken by SALC (the organisation representing towns and parishes) which called for more genuine power to the communities. By September the districts had worked together to create the ‘Stronger Somerset’ alternative which would see West Somerset (Sedgemoor and Somerset West and Taunton) and East Somerset (Mendip and South Somerset) created as 2 smaller unitary authorities. All district councils backed the Stronger Somerset model in a series of autumn meetings showing the diversity of party support for the solution closer to the people.
Politics of all Hues
Cllr Smedley added “The 2 unitary model will preserve independence of community and variety of political opinion. We’re a very varied county the more local you get -in Bridgwater we’re Labour, in Yeovil, Lib Dem in Glastonbury, Green, in Burnham, Tory and in Frome independent. This can all change of course but it shows that communities have their own identities and arguments at that level where it matters. One large county could easily go the way of Dorset and Wiltshire which have both taken the single County model, both massively Tory dominated and both seeing opposition groups marginalised. Alternatively if you look at a county like Cheshire that chose the 2 unitary model-East and West, you see a Labour West and a Labour + partners in the East. Of course, we are totally at the mercy of the Government who could tip the whole thing on its head shortly and just choose one or the other. Or scrap the whole exercise. One things for sure, the people of the county who should be having a say in this are seriously an afterthought.”
Bridgwater Town Council set up a Unitary Working Party of 5 Labour and 2 Conservative to engage with the process and determine which services an empowered and rejuvenated Town Council should take on.