Somerset Council has now taken over from the county and district councils in Somerset. This big change was proposed by the County Council in 2020 during the pandemic. Government agreed, with consultation following and a Secretary of State decision in July 2021.

Elections to the new council were in May last year. Those of us then elected have served as county councillors for a year, as well as taking decisions on setting up the new council.

The County Council has been renamed as Somerset Council and the districts, including Somerset West and Taunton Council, merged in. The new council takes on responsibilities from both former tiers, which have always had overlaps. It should be beneficial and simpler to bring all together under one roof.

Somerset Council – see: services list and details

Services provision should largely continue as before, although there will be common arrangements established where these had varied across districts. Current planning policies will continue to apply, until a new Somerset-wide Local Plan is agreed, which is expected to take 3-5 years.

There is a new website and a single phone number for all services. Old council websites and phone numbers will redirect to the new ones for up to 12 months. The new website will show the wide range of services provided and contain most of what is needed, although further content will be added over coming months.

Council offices with receptions will continue, although there may be some rationalisation in the future and some surplus buildings already identified, which are to be sold or rented.

There is a new council logo, which was produced at low cost in-house. This will be used where needed from the start, but otherwise will be phased in over time as signs and assets are replaced.

As councillors, we have reviewed arrangements and plans for the new council and been able to secure some improvements. We have agreed a new constitution, set a vision and priorities in the Council Plan and agreed a budget. £40m of savings were needed for 2023/24, although some were in the system already, such as Recycle More collections that have increased recycling, and some result from having a single unitary council.

A new staffing structure is being put in place. Redundancies will mostly be from the director tiers, which will give a £3m saving. Other staff transfer into the new council, with interim structures to be followed by new service teams established in coming months.

A lot of work has been undertaken to achieve a smooth transition into the new authority, including to adopt common IT systems in advance and ensure services are ready.

A concern with the new council is that it could be too remote from communities and local needs. Divisions covered by Somerset Councillors are larger than those previously covered by district councillors and the new council has a lot more services.

To strengthen council and community links, 18 Local Community Networks (LCNs) are being established across Somerset. Ours covers Wellington and Wiveliscombe and parishes between, including all those in Upper Tone. LCNs will involve representatives from parish councils, local businesses and community organisations. They will provide a forum for joint working and reporting into Somerset Council. It will be found how well this works in practice, after LCN meetings start this summer.

Signs are the new council should get off to a good start, although, inevitably, it has challenges as well as opportunities ahead.

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