What the councils say

The two councils see a merger as a way of securing their joint financial futures. Both councils are, it is quite true, struggling to meet their needs. Already the councils share one management team – basically a Taunton Deane team. It may seem logical to go the whole hog and join forces? But this is where the council argument begins to fall apart. In practice there are very few additional savings to be made by forming a new administration. The biggest immediate saving would be on councillors allowances and the cost of holding meetings (currently there are 28 Councillors on West Somerset’s District Council. In a merged authority there could be as few as 9) The High Level Transformation Plan, as they call it, hinges on the purchase and installation of brand new IT equipment and a complete rethink of the way council services are delivered to the public. It is cheaper and more effective, they argue, to do more of the job online. This might be a viable argument in Taunton, where internet speeds are reasonable. But in West Somerset and up on Exmoor there are black spots and dead areas galore. Web-based services can only function properly in well-connected areas. The use of computers may save people and paper. But is unlikely to work properly here.  Many people, including me, are far from convinced of the merit of spending several million pounds on untried IT systems just because a few smooth-talking consultants say that it is the best thing since sliced bread. £3.1 million is “promised” in savings. But that figure is entirely guesswork. If the new IT fails to do what it was meant to do then most of these imaginary savings go straight out of the window. Inded if you examine the Transformation Plan in detail you will see how much of their arithmetic is “projected”.