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Time for Frome to ‘Frexit’?

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Councillors call for town to have more decision-making powers

THE leader of Frome Town Council, cllr Richard Ackroyd, has called for more power to be given to the town council to make decisions that affect the town and its services.

Cllr Ackroyd has made the call for independence from the district and county councils in response to a report that says tens of millions of pounds could be saved by changing how the four district councils and the county council work together – which could see the creation of one single unitary authority.

The town councillor has said that it is ‘vital’ that more services be devolved to the town council, and that any new unitary authority arrangement should only deliver services to Frome, or make decisions affecting Frome, when it is ‘inappropriate’ to do so at a town council level.

Somerset county councillor for Frome East, Martin Dimery, who is also the leader of the local Green Party group, has also voiced his concern about the proposal for a single unitary authority, saying more power should be handed over to Frome.

Cllr Dimery says that the town has ‘suffered’ and is often ‘forgotten’ by the current local authorities for the area due to its location, resulting in officers with ‘limited’ local knowledge about issues specific to Frome. And that the situation could get worse if the proposal gets the go-ahead. He says services should be run on a much more ‘localised basis’.

Cllr Ackroyd said, “We note that Somerset County Council and the four Somerset district councils are proposing new council arrangements following a demand from Government to reduce the cost of local authorities in Somerset. The two options being proposed are different and both may have merits. And, of course, full analysis of these will require much more detail.

“Whatever form the current Somerset structure of four district and one county takes in future, it is vital that much more decision making and provision of services are devolved to the local community via parish and town councils.

“A new unitary or other district-led arrangement should provide services and make decisions only when it’s inappropriate to do so at the community level. This should be at the heart of the unitary discussions and not left until afterwards.

“We look forward to working with our partners at the district, the county level and beyond Somerset to create an appropriate unitary council built on the foundation of devolving services to the community level.”

Cllr Dimery added, “My personal view is that if we are to be properly represented, then our services need to be run on a much more localised basis. 

“In principle, I agree that a single unitary authority which brings all our services under one roof, has its merits. The main objection I have to a Somerset-wide single unitary authority however, is that we in Frome have long suffered from being a distant outpost of local government. We are on the edge of Mendip, the parliamentary constituency, and crucially, the county council in Taunton. 

“For those of us representing Frome, this entails a 100-mile round trip to attend meetings and makes short and informal consultations unmanageable. Inevitably officers based in Taunton have limited knowledge of issues specific to Frome. 

“Frome is often forgotten. This is particularly true in regard to public consultations. County officials charged with ensuring each district of Somerset hosts a consultation day on matters as important as Sure Start Centre closures or climate change policies, have habitually based the Mendip consultations in Glastonbury or Shepton, more convenient for Taunton, but distant from those in Frome, Mendip’s largest town, and therefore the most in need.

“Whilst political considerations should not be taken into account, I would hope that when the matter is decided upon by the government, we do not find that the Liberal and Green dominated Mendip area is swallowed up into the vast Tory heartlands that surround Taunton, but one cannot rule out cynical manipulation in the current climate.

“No doubt some councillors will be looking to preserve the status quo to protect their seats. Mine will be up for grabs too, but if we are to consider what is best for the town of Frome and the surrounding villages, we should take this opportunity to get the best possible long-term outcome.”

Martin Dimery letter – see page 17.

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