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Councillor backs Frome to go it alone

A FROME councillor has backed a central government report that suggests more power should be given to town councils by becoming independent of district and county councils.

Adrian Dobinson, Mendip district councillor for Frome Berkley Down and Frome town councillor, has backed part of a review that calls for councils to be reorganised as part of the government’s economic growth drive.

The report, put forward to central government by Lord Heseltine, suggests that town councils such as Frome should pursue unitary status with the support of government and that ministers should smooth the way to allow local councils to become unitary.

For Frome Town Council, that would mean breaking away from Mendip District Council and Somerset County Council, to be run totally independently, with all decisions for Frome resting on the shoulders of the town council.

While central government rejected Lord Heseltine’s shake up of local government, cllr Dobinson backs the idea that Frome should be run independently.

Cllr Dobinson said, “Some will say we should be concentrating on the fragile economy but I say Frome and surrounding hinterland needs to be in a unitary authority like B&NES (Bath and North East Somerset), with the stand-alone status of a borough council responsible for; planning and licensing, highways and education, health and transportation, business rates and council tax receipts.

“Critics are divided about the cost of reorganisation and others see massive savings possible in reducing numbers of council tiers (who do not communicate with each other) and cutting vast numbers of politicians. Consultations to Heseltine have included proposals to reduce numbers to one councillor for every 10,000 population; which would return three councillors for Frome Town.

“Instead of remote debates in Taunton or Shepton Mallet, a Frome Forum could decide on local issues such as; the pitiful price supermarkets pay for farmer’s milk, culling badgers, and whether farm labourers should be protected and properly compensated for a lonely, dangerous, tied accommodation, and underpaid jobs.

“Heseltine was victimised by right-wingers because he is pro-Europe so he stormed out of a Thatcher cabinet when she was at her shrillest, but now he’s back and his proposals to shake-up local government will unsettle the Coalition.”

However, Lord Heseltine’s review came under fire by local government minister Brandon Lewis, who said top-down restructuring was “expensive and disruptive, distracting from the need to promote growth.” But he welcomed Lord Heseltine’s call for ministers to work closer with local governments,

“There is great potential for more locally-led joint working and sharing of services in local government – in two-tier areas, such as the pooling of local retained business rates, between similar types of council.”

Lord Heseltine’s review also urged the Prime Minister, David Cameron, to produce a radical growth strategy and to change government fundamentally, if Britain is to win the “relentless economic war” it faces. His idea of bringing money from different Whitehall departments into a single funding pot was welcomed by ministers.

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