We now know the truth: if you give your opinion about the planned merger of West Somerset Council with Taunton Deane chances are they will not take any notice of what you say. The Monitoring Officer and Assistant Chief Executive for both councils has made this abundantly clear in an email I received yesterday. This is what I always feared, but it came as a complete surprise to see my view confirmed in writing by such a high powered officer.
Bruce Lang certainly took legal advice before he replied to several queries from a member of the public. His response shows what a waste of time and money the current consultation exercise really is. If a majority of people oppose the merger the councils are highly unlikely to do anything more than shrug their shoulders and go ahead with the plan anyway. Mr Lang more or less admits this. I invite you to read his email and then get very angry indeed. I am.
From: Bruce Lang <BDLang@westsomerset.gov.uk>
Sent: Wednesday, 18 January 2017, 10:09
Subject: RE: As Monitoring Officer: Outstanding questions regarding the TDBC/WSC Councils merger Consultation….
Q1. If the Councils merger consultation is “advisory” (please confirm) , will TDBC accept the aggregate result of the views expressed as “binding” i.e. if the majority of respondents are against the merger (Q1 of the consultation) then will TDBC call off the merger? Or will TDBC continue to Ministerial decision even if a majority of respondees are against the merger?
RESPONSE: In the summer the Council approved a recommendation, by a significant majority, ‘That the Leader of the Council (Councillor Williams) be authorised to commence discussions with the Secretary of State and the Local Government Boundary Commission for England concerning the proposed merger …..’ That process is underway and the next step is the submission of a formal proposal / business case to the Secretary of State who will decide whether the appropriate order are to be laid before Parliament . The purpose of the current consultation is to gather the views of residents and other stakeholders to assist the Secretary of State in making his decision. It does not necessarily follow that the majority views should automatically decide public policy; and the popularity or unpopularity of proposals should not necessarily displace professional and political judgement about what is the right or best decision in the circumstances. The levels of, and reasons for, public support or opposition are very important, but as considerations to be taken into account, not as factors that necessarily determine decisions. Consideration of the relevance and cogency of the arguments put forward during public consultations is of paramount importance, not simply the counting of submissions.