Somerset Council
The coat of arms of the council
Type
Type
History
Founded1 April 1889 (1889-04-01)
Leadership
Mike Best,
Liberal Democrats
since 25 May 2022[1]
Bill Revans,
Liberal Democrats
since 25 May 2022[2]
Duncan Sharkey
since 3 October 2022[3]
Structure
Seats110 councillors
Somerset County Council composition
Political groups
Administration (62)
  Liberal Democrats (62)
Other parties (48)
  Conservative (35)
  Green Party (5)
  Labour (5)
  Independent (3)
Length of term
4 years (from 2027)
Elections
First past the post
Last election
5 May 2022
Next election
6 May 2027
Meeting place
County Hall at Taunton
County Hall, The Crescent, Taunton, TA1 4DY
Website
www.somerset.gov.uk Edit this at Wikidata

Somerset Council, known until 1 April 2023 as Somerset County Council, is the unitary authority which governs the district of Somerset, which occupies the southern part of the ceremonial county of the same name in the South West of England. The council has been controlled by the Liberal Democrats since the 2022 local elections, and its headquarters is County Hall in Taunton.

The council was created on 1 April 1889 to govern the administrative county of Somerset. The county was reformed in 1974, becoming a non-metropolitan county with a county council and five, later four, districts. The districts were abolished in 2023 and the county council took on their responsibilities, becoming a unitary authority.[4]

The Conservative Party has been the largest or second-largest party on the council since 1973, and since 1981 has competed with the Liberal Democrats for control; each party has formed several majority administrations in the period since.[5]

History

the logo used before the unitary changes in 2023

County councils were first introduced in England and Wales from 1889 as a result of the Local Government Act 1888, taking over administrative functions until then carried out by the unelected Quarter Sessions.[6] Somerset County Council was established in on 1 April 1889; the administrative county excluded the county borough of Bath.[7]

In 1974, as part of wider reforms to local government in England and Wales, Somerset became a non-metropolitan county governed by a county council and five districts: Sedgemoor, West Somerset, Taunton Deane, South Somerset, and Mendip.[8] At the same time the north of the administrative county became part of the new non-metropolitan county of Avon; the county was abolished in 1996, and this area is now two unitary authorities within the ceremonial county of Somerset. In 2019 West Somerset and Taunton Deane were merged to form Somerset West and Taunton.[9]

The first proposal create a Somerset unitary authority was made in 2007, but was rejected in a local referendum and subsequently abandoned by the Department for Communities and Local Government.[10] In 2020 the idea was revived, and on 1 April 2023 the four district councils were abolished and their functions assumed by the county council, which was renamed Somerset Council.[4] The councillors elected in May 2022 oversaw the reforms and will serve until 2027.[11]

History of elections

The first elections to the new county council were held on 23 January 1889. Since then, members have been elected for a term of office (initially three years, now four), with elections held all together on the "first past the post" system.

Until the early 1970s, the County Council still included aldermen. Of a total of 92 members, 69 were elected every three years by ratepayers, and 23 were aldermen, chosen by the 69 elected members. The aldermen served for six years, so after each triennial election either eleven or twelve were appointed, these numbers alternating.[12] Until 1910, the outgoing aldermen could also vote on such appointments. As voting members of the council, aldermen were finally abolished in 1974 under the Local Government Act 1972[13] so that there are now only the elected members, each of the 55 present county divisions electing a single member up to 2017, and then two members for the final 2022 election.

In 2009, the council was made up of 58 seats. From 2013 until 2022 council elections were fought over a 55-seat council. Both periods saw the use of first past the post as the election system and saw Conservative majorities returned.

In 2009, the Conservative Party UK won 35 seats,[14] a six seat majority, with the Liberal Democrats UK coming second with 21 seats, in 2013 the Conservative Party UK won 29 seats,[15] a one seat majority, with the Liberal Democrats UK coming second with 18 seats and UKIP (a new entrant) coming joint third with Labour Party UK on three seats. In 2017 the Conservative Party UK won back seats and ended up winning 35 seats,[16] gaining them a seven seat majority, in this election, UKIP did not stand and the Liberal Democrats UK continued their loss of seats dropping to 12 (although they remained in second place).

The 2022 local elections in Somerset were fought on new boundaries, with 110 seats available within the new unitary council.[17] In this election the Liberal Democrats UK won 61 seats granting them a five seat majority, the Conservative Party UK came second with 36 seats.[18]

The Conservative governments of Theresa May and Boris Johnson undertook structural changes to local government in England, that resulted in several county councils and their district councils being replaced by unitary authorities.[19]

Somerset County Council drew up initial plans for unitarisation in 2018.[20] Its proposal was for a single new unitary authority that would encompass all the districts, while the joint counter-proposal of the four district councils (Somerset West and Taunton, South Somerset, Mendip, and Sedgemoor) was for two new unitary authorities representing respectively the areas of East Somerset and West Somerset.[21] A non-binding referendum of residents held in June 2021 expressed a preference for the two-authority proposal.[22] Nevertheless, the central government minister responsible, Robert Jenrick, selected the plan for a single authority.[23][24]

Functions

Somerset Council delivers all local services to the county.

Somerset Council appoints seven members to the Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Authority.[25]

Before becoming a unitary authority the county council was responsible for the more strategic local services of Somerset, with a changing pattern of lower-tier authorities existing alongside it within its area and responsible for other more local services, such as waste collection. The Council provided a wide range of services, including education (schools, libraries and youth services), social services, highway maintenance, waste disposal, emergency planning, consumer protection and town and country planning for matters to do with minerals, waste, highways and education. This made it one of the largest employers in Somerset.[26] The Council outsourced some work to a joint venture with IBM, SouthWest One, created in 2007.[27] In September 2012 the Council prepared to sue Southwest One as a result of a procurement quality dispute.[28]

Somerset County Council contributed to encouraging businesses to relocate to the county through the inward investment agency Into Somerset.

Children's services

In January 2013, Ofsted inspectors gave Somerset Councils' Children’s Services the lowest rating of "inadequate".[29]

In January 2015, Ofsted reinspected the Children’s Services Department and concluded that it remained "inadequate". The corresponding report found no improvement in the care provided by the children's services and described a "corporate failure" to keep children safe. Ofsted found there were "widespread or serious failures" which it considered placed children to be harmed or at risk of harm. The report also identified managers who "have not been able to demonstrate sufficient understanding of failures" and had been ineffective in "prioritising, challenging and making improvements".[30]

In January 2015, Julian Wooster was appointed director of Children's Services, the fifth such appointment in five years.[30]

In November 2017, the service was inspected by Ofsted. Services were judged to have improved, but still "require[d] improvement to be good" in all but one area. The report found that services for children needing help and protection required improvement, as did leadership, management and governance. The inspectors concluded that too many children in foster care experienced moves between placements before they were found the right home. Inspectors singled out adoption services as being "good".[31]

In July 2022, the service was judged by Ofsted to be "good" in all areas, but found that two areas still needed improvement: placement sufficiency, and the take-up of return home interviews for children who have been missing.[32]

Funding cuts

Somerset County Council needed to save £19.5 million in 2017/18, but only cut £11.1 million. Cuts were announced to highways, public transport and special needs services. Staff were told to take two days off unpaid for the coming two years. The chief executive said he had "no choice" because of cuts to central government funding. Further proposed cuts include reducing winter gritting, suspending 'park and ride' services, stopping funding for Citizens Advice, cutting adult social care and support for people with learning difficulties, cuts to the GetSet programme which helps stop vulnerable young people needing social care.[33][34]

In July 2018, two senior Conservative councillors resigned over concerns regarding the council's handling of financial matters. Dean Ruddle and Neil Bloomfield had previously held roles as the respective chair and vice chair of the audit committee.[35] An official audit of the council criticised its "pervasive" overspending and its failure to deliver sufficient savings over the previous 12 months.[36] In September 2018, the council voted through £28 million of spending cuts, spread over the next two years. Critics of the cuts, including Labour and Liberal Democrat councillors, noted that between 2009 and 2016, Somerset's Conservative administration had voted to freeze Council Tax, when an increase of 1.9% would have brought in an additional £114 million.[29]

Following the change to unitary status, in November 2023 the council declared a financial emergency, projecting an overspend of £27 million in that year and a deficit of £100 million for 2024–2025, arising in part from an expected increase of £70 million in the cost of adult social care.[37][38] It was also reported that the council had inherited Council Tax arrears of more than £43 million from the four district councils.[39]

Governance

Somerset County Council operated the local government cabinet system which was introduced by the Local Government Act 2000. Previously called the "Executive Board", the Cabinet consists of six county councillors and is the county council's main decision making body, taking most important decisions about its functions.[40] Each of the members of the Cabinet is directly responsible for a particular area of county council activities.[41]

Decisions to do with the planning matters dealt with by the county council and other regulatory matters are still taken in a committee called the Regulation Committee.[42]

Elections

Main articles: Somerset Council elections and Somerset County Council elections

On 5 May 2022, the Liberal Democrats won 61 of the 110 county council seats, giving them control of the unitary authority after the 2023 reforms.[43]

2022 election results
Party Councillors
Liberal Democrats 61
Conservative 36
Labour 5
Green 5
Independent 3
Total 110
Source: Election results on BBC News

Notable members

Incomplete list, in chronological order

See also

References

  1. ^ "Councillor details". Somerset Council. Retrieved 1 April 2023.
  2. ^ "Somerset election results 2022: Lib Dems win control". BBC News. 6 May 2022.
  3. ^ Hill, Phil (3 October 2022). "Duncan Sharkey's first day as CEO at Somerset County Council". Somerset County Gazette. Retrieved 25 December 2023.
  4. ^ a b "Frequently asked questions". Somerset County Council. Archived from the original on 1 January 2022. Retrieved 1 January 2022.
  5. ^ Rallings, Colin; Thrasher, Michael. "Somerset County Council Election Results 1973-2009" (PDF). Elections Centre, Plymouth University. Retrieved 22 June 2023.
  6. ^ Edwards, John (1955). 'County' in Chambers's Encyclopedia. London: George Newnes. pp. 189–191.
  7. ^ Keane, Patrick (1973). "An English County and Education: Somerset, 1889–1902". The English Historical Review. 88 (347): 286–311. doi:10.1093/ehr/LXXXVIII.CCCXLVII.286.
  8. ^ "The English Non-Metropolitan Districts (Definition) Order 1972, part 33". legislation.gov.uk. Retrieved 22 June 2023.
  9. ^ "The Somerset West and Taunton (Local Government Changes) Order 2018". legislation.gov.uk. Retrieved 22 June 2023.
  10. ^ "A unitary council for Somerset". Somerset County Council. Archived from the original on 30 September 2007. Retrieved 29 June 2007.
  11. ^ "Elections for new Somerset Council to be held in May 2022". BBC News. 2 December 2021. Archived from the original on 1 January 2022. Retrieved 1 January 2022.
  12. ^ Geoffrey Boumphrey, Somerset (1963), p. 168 online at books.google.co.uk
  13. ^ Minors, Michael; Grenham, Dennis (March 2007). London Borough Council Elections 4 May 2006. Greater London Authority. ISBN 9781852612320. Archived from the original on 30 September 2015. Retrieved 29 September 2015.
  14. ^ "BBC NEWS | Election 2009 | Somerset council".
  15. ^ "Local elections 2013: Somerset Tories retain control". BBC News. May 2013.
  16. ^ "Local Elections Archive Project - 2017 - Somerset".
  17. ^ "Somerset: 'This is the biggest shake up in 50 years'". 3 April 2023.
  18. ^ "Election results". 6 May 2022.
  19. ^ Bunn, Jon (2 October 2019). "Jenrick: 'no long-term future' for districts in devo push". Local Government Chronicle (LGC). Retrieved 24 January 2022.
  20. ^ "REVEALED: Plans to scrap SIX Somerset councils in bid to save millions". Somerset County Gazette. 2 May 2018. Retrieved 24 January 2022.
  21. ^ "Unitary Somerset: 'Based on a giant lie' or 'the right way forward' for the county's future?". Somerset County Gazette. 22 October 2020. Retrieved 24 January 2022.
  22. ^ "Somerset: controversial poll opts for two-council future". BBC News. 7 June 2021. Retrieved 7 May 2022.
  23. ^ "Somerset councils to merge into single unitary authority". BBC News. 22 July 2021. Retrieved 24 January 2022.
  24. ^ "Next steps for new unitary councils in Cumbria, North Yorkshire and Somerset". GOV.UK. Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government. 21 July 2021. Retrieved 24 January 2022.
  25. ^ "Your Authority Members". Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Authority. Retrieved 3 July 2023.
  26. ^ "Working for Somerset". Somerset County Council. Archived from the original on 29 October 2009. Retrieved 20 October 2009.
  27. ^ Ballard, Mark (31 August 2012). "Somerset Council braces for lawsuit from Southwest One shared service venture". Computer Weekly. Archived from the original on 3 September 2012. Retrieved 6 September 2012.
  28. ^ "Southwest One sues Somerset County Council". BBC News. 5 September 2012. Archived from the original on 19 September 2012. Retrieved 6 September 2012.
  29. ^ a b Harris, John (14 September 2018). "'Lost for words': Somerset cuts £28m of help for most vulnerable". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 14 September 2018. Retrieved 14 September 2018.
  30. ^ a b "Children's services still inadequate". BBC News. 27 March 2015. Archived from the original on 18 September 2018. Retrieved 14 September 2018.
  31. ^ "Children's services require improvement". BBC News. 2018. Archived from the original on 17 September 2018. Retrieved 14 September 2018.
  32. ^ "Inspection of Somerset local authority children's services". Ofsted. 29 July 2022. Retrieved 3 July 2023.
  33. ^ Somerset County Council proposes 130 job losses and cuts Archived 6 September 2018 at the Wayback Machine BBC
  34. ^ 'Lost for words': Somerset cuts £28m of help for most vulnerable Archived 14 September 2018 at the Wayback Machine The Guardian
  35. ^ "Senior Tories quit over budget crisis". BBC News. 19 July 2018. Archived from the original on 22 July 2018. Retrieved 20 July 2018.
  36. ^ Mumby, Daniel (20 July 2018). "This council could 'run out of money' in next few years". somersetlive. Archived from the original on 20 July 2018. Retrieved 20 July 2018.
  37. ^ "Council steps up response to 'financial emergency'". Somerset Council. 13 November 2023. Retrieved 20 December 2023.
  38. ^ Scancariello, Antonio (19 November 2023). "Council leader writes to residents as authority risks 'bankruptcy'". Chard & Ilminster News. Retrieved 20 December 2023.
  39. ^ "Rotten Boroughs (quoting the Leveller newspaper)". Private Eye. No. 1611. 17 November 2023. p. 15.
  40. ^ Cabinet Archived 14 October 2011 at the Wayback Machine page at somerset.gov.uk, accessed 11 August 2011
  41. ^ Cabinet Members' Responsibilities November 2010 Archived 6 April 2012 at the Wayback Machine at somerset.gov.uk, accessed 11 August 2011
  42. ^ About the Council and its Constitution Archived 16 October 2011 at the Wayback Machine at somerset.gov.uk, accessed 11 August 2011
  43. ^ "Somerset election results 2022: Lib Dems win control". BBC News. 6 May 2022. Retrieved 7 May 2022.
  44. ^ Christine Bellamy, Administering central-local relations, 1871-1919, p. 77
  45. ^ Obituary Sir Arthur Hobhouse: A long record of public service in The Times, 21 January 1965
  46. ^ "Sir John Wills" (obituary) in The Times, 31 August 1998, p. 23 Gale IF0500216285
  47. ^ "Sir Michael Gass" (obituary) in The Times dated 2 March 1983, p. 14
  48. ^ Tributes paid Archived 17 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine, 17 December 2009 by Firstonline
  49. ^ Sir Chris Clarke Archived 13 April 2010 at the Wayback Machine, editorial dated 16 December 2009 at aldc.org
  50. ^ 'Gass, Elizabeth Periam Acland Hood, (Lady Gass)’, in Who's Who 2012 (London: A. & C. Black, 2012)
  51. ^ Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Archived 29 June 2011 at the Wayback Machine at libdems.org.uk