The communities secretary has announced he is ‘minded to’ give his backing to two district council merger proposals.
Taunton Deane BC and West Somerset DC submitted a bid to merge in March this year while Forest Heath DC and St Edmundsbury BC in Suffolk submitted a bid in September.
In a written statement to Parliament today Sajid Javid said he was satisfied on the basis of the councils’ submissions that they met his criteria for district mergers. These are that the proposal will improve local government, has local support including from the councils involved and covers a “credible geography’.
He said: ”I am announcing today that having carefully considered all the material and representations I have received, I am ‘minded to’ implement two locally-led proposals for merging district councils in Somerset and Suffolk.”
Interested parties have until 19 January to make further representations on the proposals before a final decision is taken. The final decision is subject to parliamentary approval.
West Somerset, which is England’s smallest district, and Taunton Deane have shared management and services since the former was engulfed by a financial crisis in 2013. The councils have previously said merging would overall save them £3.1m a year.
Forest Heath and St Edmundsbury have said they could increase the £4m a year they save through shared services were they to merge as West Suffolk, which would have a combined population of some 176,200.
A merger of Suffolk Coastal and Waveney DCs has previously been approved by Mr Javid while Babergh and Mid Suffolk DCs are also in discussions about coming together. If all of the mergers proceed it would reduce the number of districts in Suffolk from seven to four. Ipswich BC is the only one without any plans to merge.
The Cities and Local Government Devolution Act 2016 allows for mergers where agreed by councils and approved by ministers without the need for a lengthy inquiry by the Boundary Commission for England.