Taunton Deane Borough Council and West Somerset Council have now both voted in favour of joining forces to create a new, single authority and so make significant savings to protect vital community services.
They have also agreed to implement a shared programme to change the way services are delivered and how decisions are made – a process known as “transformation.”
Taunton Deane voted for the merger in July and now West Somerset Council has also agreed in principle to the move which is subject to Government approval because it will mean a new, single authority covering both geographical areas being created.
The Leaders of the councils say the pioneering agreement will better protect vital services for residents in both existing council areas for now and into the future.
The authorities entered into partnership in 2013 and is currently delivering annual savings of £1.8m. The merger will formalise the links between the two authorities while scrapping costly duplication and reducing bureaucracy.
Leader of Taunton Deane, Cllr John Williams, said: “This is a huge and radical step – one that is being taken to make us fit for the future and stronger together. As one council covering Taunton Deane and West Somerset, we will not only save money to invest in our community but have a far stronger voice.
“It is a brave and ambitious decision and cements the solid partnership that was created three years ago. We have come a long way together and we can make a fresh start as a single authority.
“Now agreement has been reached, we will undertake appropriate consultation as part of the process.”
Cllr Anthony Trollope-Bellew, Leader of West Somerset Council, said: “It was a tough decision to make, the hardest I have faced in 15 years in local government, but we owe it to our community now – and future generations – to show strong leadership and do what is right.
“We are taking control of our future rather than waiting for a solution to be imposed. Our residents will still receive the services they rely on – if we had done nothing the future of those services were at risk. We are putting people, rather than politics, first.”
Now both councils have agreed to proceed with the process towards merger, it will be for the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (CLG) to approve the move. A decision on the number of councillors will also be for the Secretary of State to approve, once local proposals have been submitted.
A programme of partner involvement is now being prepared and will be widely publicised. The merger is underpinned by a radical review of how services will be delivered in future. The aim is to streamline and modernise processes to bring them into the 21st century.
There is a focus on local delivery, bringing the council to the people, and a greater use of technology so that transactions can be completed online 24/7 while still retaining the help for those without the ability or facilities to use this.
The changes will have a cost – new technology for example - but the merger will, conservatively, deliver savings of some £3.1m a year.
The Leaders said: “Our message to our communities is one of optimism and the strong belief that by merging our councils we can protect the services that people rely on. It’s local government that will change, not our people, not our values and not our determination to succeed.”
Cllr John Williams, Leader, Taunton Deane Borough Council 07831 341081
Cllr Anthony Trollope-Bellew 07977 591940
Debbie Rundle, Public & Media Relations Officer 01984 635280 or 01823 356407