Frequently asked questions

Common themed questions and concerns about the new council proposal will be featured in this section of the website.

 

The decision to create a new council has already been made. What’s the point of the public consultation?

Public opinion is extremely important. Taunton Deane and West Somerset Councils are consulting with the public widely to make sure that residents, businesses and other interested parties can have their say on the proposal to create a new council. The final decision on whether the proposal should go ahead will be made by the Secretary of State. He will examine all the evidence, including the views expressed during the public consultation.

 

Surely other options are available, such as forming a unitary council for the whole of Somerset?

The reduction in funding in local government means that things cannot stay as they are, change is needed. There are currently no plans to create a unitary council for the whole of Somerset. Taunton Deane and West Somerset Councils need to act quickly and focus on what is currently possible. Both councils need to find a solution to the predicted “budget gaps” they face within a very short timescale.

 

This proposal is only about saving money?

Delivering costs savings is very important, but it’s also about creating a more efficient, customer-focused organisation. Both Taunton Deane and West Somerset Councils are already investing in a programme of change, making significant savings (£2.6 million a year) by streamlining processes and using new technology.

Even more money (£0.5 million a year) will be saved by creating a single new council for the area – the combined savings will be used to help protect the services that local people need and value.

 

Taunton Deane council tax payers will have to subsidise West Somerset Council

If the proposal to create a new council goes ahead, both Taunton Deane Borough Council and West Somerset Council will cease to exist. The new single council would set its own budget and decide on its own priorities, working to build the local economy, jobs, housing and infrastructure for the entire area.

 

This is all about Hinkley Point

No potential income from Hinkley Point C (HPC) has been included in the proposal. This is because it is unlikely that any rates from HPC would be received until 2025 at the earliest, far too late to address the financial challenges both councils currently face. There is no guarantee that there will be any extra funding to the district council when it starts generating.

 

All councils meetings will be held in a central headquarters based in Taunton

Council meetings would not have to take place at a particular headquarters. They could be held anywhere within the new area with the possibility of holding them in village halls or other local venues.

 

What difference will I see?

Hopefully none except that your district councillor will have to represent more residents. Hopefully this can be largely covered by the better use of technology.

 


 

Will I be asked to vote on the proposal?

No, we are not required to conduct a ballot or referendum. The consultation exercise that is being undertaken is simply to obtain the views of residents and others who may be affected by the proposal.

 

Has the decision already been made to create a new council?

No. All the councils have done is agree to pursue a proposal to create a new council. The decision maker is not the councils but the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. He will be asked to make a decision during 2017 after we have submitted a proposal to him. The consultation is to inform the Secretary of State’s decision on whether to form a new council.

 

Could the Secretary of State say ‘no’?

Yes, he could.

 

What will Taunton Deane and West Somerset do with the consultation responses received?

We will analyse the responses we receive and will make both a summary and all of the submissions available to the Secretary of State for his consideration. We also intend to publish this information on this website (www.yournewcouncil.org) around late March 2017.

 

How are you making sure that any significant impacts, particularly on those with protected characteristics, are captured?

In addition to asking a specific question within our consultation questionnaire we have invited a large number of groups and organisations, who represent those with protected characteristics, to respond to the consultation in order to identify any significant personal impacts which might flow from this proposal and how these might be reduced.

 

What would happen to existing boundaries?

Under the route we are proposing, the whole of the existing Taunton Deane and West Somerset areas would become the new council area. This means that both areas would be kept whole, just joined together.

 

Would a new council cost less to run than the current two councils?

Yes. We believe having a single district council rather than two would save at least £550,000 every year in operating costs.

 

How much will need to be invested to create the new council?

We estimate it will cost around £330,000 to create the new council. This is a one-off cost which will lead to £550,000 savings every year.

 

Would our town and parish councils have to change too?

No. The existing town and parish councils in both areas would not change – they would remain as they are and continue their important grassroots role.

 

What about Somerset County Council?

These proposals do not affect the services provided by Somerset County Council. Their responsibilities will remain unaltered by this proposal.

 

Does this proposal rule out future options such as a unitary council or shared working with other councils?

Absolutely not. Although this proposal helps address the current pressing needs of our two councils; having a single new council for Taunton Deane and West Somerset does not rule out the new council considering future opportunities which may arise regarding service delivery or wider changes. West Somerset and Taunton Deane already work with the other councils in Somerset in a variety of partnerships dealing with waste collection, building control, audit and legal services etc. and the new council is likely to continue to look for opportunities to work with other councils.

 

What would happen to community and voluntary sector grants that the councils award?

Both Taunton Deane Borough Council and West Somerset Council make awards to various voluntary and charitable bodies to help them support our communities. Currently, each year these are reviewed as part of each council’s budget-setting process. If a new council takes over from West Somerset and Taunton Deane it would be for the new council to decide how much money it makes available for supporting voluntary and community groups, the size of any award made and the organisations who are to receive such awards. The voluntary and community sector are important stakeholders and would remain so. We will keep them informed as these proposals progress. 

 

What would happen to the Community Impact Mitigation Fund (CIM Fund) and other funds, linked to site preparation at Hinkley C nuclear power station?

Funding ring-fenced to a particular community (for example Stogursey) must be spent within that community. This would not change even if a new district council is created.

Funding that is ring-fenced to West Somerset District Council’s geographical area could in theory be spent over the wider area of the proposed new council, if that new council were in place, as ‘West Somerset District Council’ would cease to exist.  However, it is anticipated that the CIM fund would be fully spent before 2019 (the date on the new council would come into effect) and this situation would not therefore arise. In the event that funds did remain unspent at the time of the new council coming into effect, the criteria defining how those funds are to be spent would remain the same and would continue to be linked to the impacts of the development. In essence communities eligible to receive funding would continue to be eligible regardless of whether there is a new council administering the funds.

 

I’m a Magna West Somerset tenant– how would this affect my tenancy?

Your tenancy would not be affected. You would continue to be a housing association tenant with Magna.

 

I’m a supplier to the councils. How does this affect me?

Existing contracts, at the point the new council came into being would generally transfer to the new council on agreed terms. The new council would however, in due course, review the contracts it inherits and would seek to achieve the best value for money for its residents. Where two different suppliers currently supply Taunton Deane Borough Council and West Somerset Council with the same goods or services, the new council would be likely to move to a single supplier at the earliest opportunity following agreed procurement rules and processes.

 

How many councillors would there be on the new council?

That has yet to be decided – there are currently 28 West Somerset councillors and 56 Taunton Deane councillors (a total of 84) – but it’s likely to be around 50-55. By comparison Sedgemoor District Council which has 48 members and South Somerset District Council has 59.

 

Is there a timetable for the process?

We have a timetable for guidance but this could change as the proposal progresses. The aim is to have the new members elected to the new council in May 2019. You can see an indicative timeline on our website www.yournewcouncil.org

 

For Taunton Deane Borough Council tenants

 

Who would be my landlord?

The new council that would replace Taunton Deane Borough Council and West Somerset Council would be your landlord.

 

Who would do my repairs?

The new council that replaces Taunton Deane Borough Council and West Somerset Council would be responsible for maintaining your home.

 

Would I still be a council tenant?

Yes. You would be a tenant of the new council that replaces Taunton Deane Borough Council and West Somerset Council.

 

Would I keep the right to buy and would my discount be protected?

Yes, you would retain your right to buy and any discount that you have built up would be protected.

 

Will I be asked to vote about this?

No. As this is not a stock transfer, but simply the new council taking on the landlord responsibilities of the current one, there is no requirement for tenants to vote.

 

Is this a merger of stock with West Somerset social housing?

No. West Somerset Council transferred their housing stock to Magna West Somerset Housing Association several years ago. Those tenants would remain with Magna West Somerset Housing Association. Taunton Deane’s tenancies would be taken on by the new council.

 

Would my rent subsidise West Somerset tenants?

Absolutely not. Rents paid by Taunton Deane’s tenants cannot and would not be used to subsidise housing association tenants in West Somerset.

 

When would it happen?

It is anticipated that the new council would be in place by 2019. We would keep tenants regularly informed as things progress.

 

Would Taunton Deane continue to update our homes while the new council is being created?

Yes. Routine maintenance and improvements would continue as usual.