An important step towards creating a new Somerset Council has been made as the Minister for Levelling Up Communities, Kemi Badenoch MP, set out a firm intention for the proposed Structural Changes Order (SCO) that sets the legal basis for the new council.
All councils are legal ‘entities’, their legitimacy to govern locally is written into law. Setting up a new council needs that law to be changed. This SCO is the government’s proposal for the law changes that MPs in Parliament will consider in the new year. We anticipate the law will be passed by March.
Unitary Council Election May 2022
The SCO confirms that elections will take place in May 2022. 110 councillors will be elected to the County Council and will take responsibility for all current County Council services and local government reorganisation.
That means that the implementation executive (currently the LGR Joint Committee comprising the leaders of each District Council and representatives of the County Council that has already started meeting) has responsibility for the implementation until the 4th day after the election in May 2022. After that the new membership of the larger Somerset County Council has responsibility for implementation through its executive.
In April 2023 the new Somerset Council assumes responsibility for all local government functions for Somerset, including those of the current district councils, and the transition comes to an end. The 110 elected representatives of Somerset County Council, become the councillors of the new Somerset Council.
The restrictions on pre-election publicity will begin late March 2022 and further advice for officers and members will be issued in due course.
Under the proposal, the new Somerset Council is intended to take over the county-wide functions and powers that already exists for Somerset County Council (SCC). Legally, this is described as SCC being the ‘continuing authority’ – but in practice, Somerset Council will be a new organisation in both name and operation.
This legal measure gives us an efficient way to bring contracts together and harmonise property ownership, VAT registration, separate accounts and auditing towards the establishment of the new Somerset Council.
It will also simplify the process of transitioning many staff. It will not impact the selection of staff to posts. Our five Chief Executives are committed to adopting staff appointment processes that treat all employees from each council equally. They are clear, that to make this work for people across Somerset, the new council will need people with the right skills who are motivated to make a difference.