B&NES Council’s small stature makes it a “sitting duck” for a takeover by Bristol, the local Conservative Leader has warned.
Cllr Paul Myers said Somerset and Wiltshire both benefit from economies of scale, but the pandemic has exposed the fragility of B&NES Council’s finances.
The authority has rejected an invitation to submit plans to reorganise local Government in the historic county after a 2018 report warned of significant risks (also see Journal Page 5).
Leader Dine Romero said the talks were a distraction when efforts should be focused on tackling the pandemic.
Councillor Myers said being a small Council with a population of 192,000 when Wiltshire – more than twice the size with 470,000
residents – is now a unitary authority and Somerset could be heading in the same direction could be a “risky strategy”, adding: “Doesn’t that leave us a sitting duck for a takeover from someone like Bristol? I don’t know anyone that would want to be
subsumed into Bristol.”
Alderman Tim Warren returned as a public speaker to comment on the Government’s invitation. When he led the Council he said it could merge with Mendip District Council. He told the meeting he did not want to return to the days of Avon County Council – which brought together B&NES, Bristol, South Gloucestershire and North Somerset – but having fewer authorities in Somerset had cut costs.
With the pandemic impacting on income from tourism, parking and the Council’s commercial properties, “now is the time to strengthen relationships and collaborate,” said Mr Warren.
Deputy Leader, Richard Samuel, argued: “B&NES Council does not want to get drawn into this morass, as we wish to concentrate on the things that really matter to local people. This is why the cabinet soundly rejected participating in these discussions.”