Council mergers under discussion as leaders agree to discuss local governance shake-up

PUBLISHED: 13:00 30 July 2018

Weston's Town Hall.

Weston's Town Hall.

Archant

North Somerset Council’s leader has agreed to talks about possible mergers with other authorities as changes in local governance could be on the cards again.

The talks involve councils in Somerset rather than across the former Avon County Council area, which included Bristol and broke up into four authorities 22 years ago.

Suggestions have been made North Somerset Council could merge with Sedgemoor District Council, which serves Burnham, Highbridge and Bridgwater. It may also mean Mendip merging with Bath and North East Somerset, and a new council being formed in the south of the county.

In an email to councillors, seen by the Mercury, North Somerset’s interim chief executive Helen Bailey said: “The leader (Nigel Ashton) has asked me to inform you he and I recently attended a meeting with leaders and chief executives of the Somerset councils.

“This was one of a number they had held to discuss potential future local government structures but the first to which North Somerset has been invited.

INSET – Weston MP John Penrose.INSET – Weston MP John Penrose.

“While many options are on the table none had consensus and North Somerset has made no commitment beyond dialogue.

“The next step for the councils will be to commission research into a wide range of options.”

Talks have been prompted by Somerset County Council’s leader’s suggestion to axe his authority, plus five others, to create one larger council. Estimates suggested it could save £18-28million a year.

If mergers do go ahead, it would be the second major local governance change in recent years, following the formation of the West of England combined authority (WECA) in 2017.

North Somerset opted out of being part of the £1.1billion devolution deal which led to the WECA being created.

Weston and the villages MP John Penrose said: “Anything which weakens the artificial divide between Weston and the rest of Somerset, which was created in the bad old days of Avon, will get a lot of sympathy from everyone.

“But any changes have got to be about the future as well as the past; we’re a very different place nowadays, so the practical test for any proposed new arrangements will be whether they make local services like bin collections or pothole-filling more or less efficient in future as well.”

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