Frequently asked questions
Common themed questions and concerns about the new council proposal will be featured in this section of the website.
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. The councils undertook a consultation exercise to help inform the Secretary of State’s decision on whether to form a new council.
Could the Secretary of State say ‘no’?
Yes, he could.
Why is the submission document being sent to the Secretary of State without consideration by members of both councils? Isn’t there a legal requirement?
Both councils gave their consent to the proposal for a new council to be progressed with the Secretary of State when they met in July (Taunton Deane) and September (West Somerset). Should the Secretary of State be minded to create the new Council there will be a requirement, in due course, for both councils to consider regulations concerning a new council, the name of a new authority and the size of a new authority (the number of councillors).
Why are you choosing the Cities and Devolution Act 2016, rather than the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007 as the route to progress the proposal?
The 2016 legislation allows us to work with our existing boundaries, which means we can move more quickly, and build on what we already have in place for our communities. This brings in the projected savings and benefits earlier than any other route, which is important when we consider the sustainability of our financial position. We need to deliver savings quickly and we believe this is the best route to achieve our ambitions safely and swiftly.
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. The creation of the new council does not however prevent wider joint working arrangements in the future.
Is this proposal only about saving money?
Delivering cost 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.
Will Taunton Deane council tax payers will have to subsidise West Somerset council tax payers?
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.
What difference will I see?
In relation to the creation of the new council alone there will be fewer district councillors in the new area and the main council offices may be further away for some than now. Changing and modernising the way we work will see fewer staff employed by the council, however, by changing the way we are organised and how we work, including a greater number of our staff working in the community rather than in the office and a greater range of services accessible online, we expect that current levels of customer satisfaction will be maintained or will improve.
Is this all about Hinkley Point C?
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.
Will all councils meetings 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 where appropriate.
Will I be asked to vote on the proposal?
No, we are not required to conduct a ballot or referendum.
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.
How much will need to be invested to create the new council?
We estimate it will cost around £330,000 specifically to create the new council. This is a one-off cost which will lead to £550,000 savings every year. There will be additional investment required to transform the way in which we operate.
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 58. By comparison Sedgemoor District Council which has 48 members and South Somerset District Council has 59.
What will happen to the Taunton Deane Mayoralty?
As part of the process for creating a new council, the issue of continuing with Borough Status and the associated Mayoralty will be an option for the Implementation Executive and the new council itself to determine and therefore should it be the wish to continue with this tradition, then that option will be open to them.
To explain: if the Secretary of State agrees to proceed with the creation of a new council, the two existing Councils will be required to establish an ‘Implementation Executive’ assembled from the existing councillors to act on behalf of the new authority between the time starting around about April /May 2018 and the new Council coming into being in May 2019, following elections.
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.