England’s smallest district has voted to dissolve itself and merge with a neighbour.
West Somerset DC opted last night to merge with Taunton Deane BC, with which it has shared management and services since being engulfed by a financial crisis in 2013.
Taunton Deane BC leader John Williams (Con) and West Somerset DC leader Anthony Trollop-Bellew (Con) met local government minister Marcus Jones earlier this week, and both said he had told them he would not impose reorganisation but if they chose to merge he would look at extra funding for this.
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.
Taunton Deane and West Somerset are now in a race with Suffolk Coastal and Waveney DCs to be the first merger to use this mechanism.
West Somerset, which has only some 35,000 residents, hit financial trouble in 2013 and an LGA assessment judged it unviable. That recommended merger, but the council instead chose the shared management and services arrangement with Taunton Deane.
Both councils now face substantial budget gaps and felt that merging would place them better to deal with the resulting cuts. They said merging would overall save them £3.1m a year.
Adjacent Sedgemoor DC, which has been talked of as an additional merger partner in 2013 and again now, said it would consider participating in preparing a business case for a three-way merger but was not “prepared to be a bolt-on to another business case”, a spokeswoman said.
Unravelling the Taunton Deane and West Somerset business case and starting again including Sedgemoor would cause “inevitable delay” she added.