Parish councils urged to join coalition fighting for their interests

August 24 2020

PARISH councils across mid-Somerset are being asked to join a coalition to defend the interests of rural areas in the face of a major local government shake up.

The move is being led by a working group set up by Somerset's largest parish council, St Cuthbert Out, which serves all the villages around Wells.

It will canvas views from 20 neighbouring parishes to establish key hopes and fears of rural communities as the change process rolls out.

Under the proposals, the current two-tier system – of the county council plus four district authorities – will be abolished to make way for a one-tier or unitary approach.

As a result parish councils may be asked to take on additional functions. But there is no clear plan of what they will be and how they will be funded.

The St Cuthbert Out working group will be contacting the other 20 mid-Somerset parish councils with a view to setting up the coalition. The working group’s chairman, Councillor Pablo Foster, said: “We realise this will not be easy but we believe a collective response to change will help us as individual parishes.”

The most developed plan for the new-style Somerset has come from county council leader, Councillor David Fothergill. He wants to see district councils, like Mendip and Sedgemoor, abolished and all of their powers absorbed by a new Somerset-wide unitary body.

But he also proposes the creation of Local Community Networks, a suggestion which Cllr Foster feels is lacking in detail, especially over the future roles of parish councils.

He said: “We need to prevent other organisations, whether appointed or voluntary, having a disproportionate influence over the needs and rights of our residents or their local representative councils.”

He believes a mid-Somerset coalition of parish councils could collectively negotiate with a new unitary authority far more effectively than each one acting alone.

Councillor Paul Cannon