This matter is the responsibility of the Leader of the Council, Cllr Federica Smith-Roberts.
The purpose of this report is to formally notify the Executive and Full Council of the decision of the Secretary of State on 21 July 2021 to implement the proposal for a single unitary council for the County of Somerset, to update members as to the next steps and to seek delegated authority for the Chief Executive, in consultation with the Leader of the Council and the Monitoring Officer or their deputy and to negotiate the terms of the Structural Change Order with the Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government (“MHCLG”).
During the discussion, the following points were raised:-
· Councillors stated that now the Local Government Reorganisation had been approved and would be carried out through the formation of a Unitary Authority, they needed to focus on the Structural Change Order (SCO) to ensure that the best outcome was achieved for the local residents and that they were all well represented.
· Councillors also wanted to ensure that officers jobs remained secure and that as many officers were taken forward to the New Council as possible.
· Councillors believed that it was the wrong time for a Unitary Authority to be established, however, they wanted to ensure that the transition period through to the New Council was smooth for all the residents in the area.
· Concern was raised that the Secretary of State, who was not locally based, was making all the decisions on behalf of the local residents.
· Councillors queried whether the recommendation to set up a committee system for the New Council would be adhered to.
The Leader advised that a committee system was not part of the SCO and that sort of detail would follow later once the Shadow Council had been formed.
· Councillors pleaded that they were kept informed throughout the whole decision-making process of the New Council.
The Leader would try and keep all councillors involved through member briefings as often as required.
· Councillors queried what the official outcome was of the consultation.
The Leader would report back with the consultation results.
· Concern was raised on behalf of the local community who had great uncertainty on how local issues would be dealt with by the New Council.
· Councillors pleaded that all officers and councillors worked together throughout the whole process both at district and county level.
The Leader of the Council thanked all for their comments.
Resolved that Council:-
2.1Noted the next steps following the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government’s (“MHCLG”) decision regarding local government re-organisation in Somerset.
2.2Delegated to the Chief Executive, following consultation with the Leader of the Council and the Monitoring Officer or their deputy under the terms of Schedule 2 Paragraph 19 of the Local Authorities (Functions and Responsibilities) (England) Regulation 2000:
a) The appointment of Members and Officers to any body (that was a body created under the Public Body powers) such as a Joint Committee or sub-committee of two or more local authorities in connection with the establishment of a Unitary Council in Somerset.
b) Delegated power to negotiate and in urgent circumstances to agree to the terms of a draft Structural Change Order to be laid before Parliament for the creation of the unitary authority for Somerset. (This delegated power was to be exercised on the basis that the terms of such order were to be considered by the Councils Executive at the earliest opportunity and referred to Full Council, however, where the Government indicate that time was of the essence, then if circumstances did not permit an urgent referral to Full Council, then this power was the basis upon which officers may need to commit the Authority to such best terms that could be negotiated.)
2.3An advisory group of the political Group Leaders on the Council to advise and work with the Chief Executive, Leader of the Council and Monitoring Officer or their Deputy in considering the Structural Change Order, and the membership of that group to be the Leader of Council, the Deputy Leader, Leader of the Independents Group, Leader of the Conservative Group and Leader of the Labour Group.