The Rt Hon Sajid Javid MP, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, told Taunton Deane Borough and West Somerset Councils of his intention to allow the proposal to go forward, subject to a period of further representation until 19 January 2018 and Parliamentary approval.
Mr Javid said he was satisfied the proposal met the criteria he had set out when approving other submissions (in Dorset and Suffolk) on 7 November 2017.
“Before I take my final decisions on these proposed mergers there will now be a period until 19 January 2018 during which those interested may make further representations to me, including that if a proposal is implemented it is with suggested modifications. The final decisions would also be subject to Parliamentary approval,” said Mr Javid.
The two councils have been working in a formal partnership since 2013, sharing a Chief Executive and a single set of staff – the One Team. The partnership has delivered annual savings of £1.8m used in Taunton Deane’s case to maintain important front line services.
For West Somerset, the savings have provided some financial stability, maintenance of services and resilience.
Last year both authorities agreed to propose creating a single new council to serve both geographical areas to deliver further savings to the public purse.
The new council, coupled with implementing new ways of working, will deliver a further £3.1 million in savings every year, vital to ensure future viability and sustainability of the new council.
In a joint statement, the Leaders – Councillors John Williams (Taunton Deane) and Anthony Trollope-Bellew (West Somerset) - said: “We welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement that he is minded to approve the proposal for a single new council.
“We have the support of partners, other councils in Somerset, key players in business and the voluntary sector – all play a vital part in the life of our two areas.
“Our proposal will deliver further savings, service improvements and resilience, stronger leadership and improved local governance. Ultimately it will deliver financially viable local government services in our area in the future.
“This new council will make sure we can continue to deliver the services that our residents value, and allowing us to focus on boosting our economy, supporting the delivery of Hinkley Point C new nuclear power station and fully embracing the opportunity afforded by Garden Town status awarded to Taunton.
“We must also make the most of the great natural assets that exist – Exmoor National Park, the coastline, Quantock and Blackdown Hills and the Somerset Levels”
The councils will now start the next stage of work in creating a new council in anticipation of a final, favourable decision from the Government.
“There is much that needs to be done,” said the Leaders. “We have to start making definitive plans that will make sure that a new council can be ready for business in May 2019, following local elections.
“Of course we cannot pre-empt the final decision but we must make sure we can continue to serve the people of Taunton Deane and West Somerset in the future.