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Dispute between county and districts over local government reorganisation in Somerset heats up as voters directed to spoof website

Somerset County Council has urged residents to ignore a poll organised by district councils as part of a bitter dispute over local government reorganisation.

Relations between the two tiers worsened after material issued by the districts was found to mistakenly direct residents to a spoof website with a slightly different name from the county’s One Somerset campaign.

The spoof site contained satirical remarks about the ‘one county’ unitary council idea, insults about prominent local politicians and bogus adverts for underwear featuring the face of county leader David Fothergill.

Somerset wants the whole county to become a unitary council but the districts are promoting a rival option for two unitaries - one would take in the existing Mendip and South Somerset councils and the other Sedgemoor and Somerset West & Taunton.

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The Government has conducted a consultation but the districts are running their own poll, which closes on 4 June.

Somerset has renewed criticism of the districts although they apologised once inclusion of the spoof site’s address in their material became known.

A Somerset spokesman said: “We’ve had no involvement with this costly and confusing poll which has trashed the reputations of Somerset County Council, our leader, one of our MPs, and hundreds of hard-working staff and councillors.

“We call on the district councils to apologise immediately, set the record straight and declare the poll null and void before further damage is done.

“The spoof website is still live, residents are still being directed to view it, and it is still causing offence, upset and confusion.”

Somerset argues that a county unitary would “end confusion for residents, remove waste and duplication, and free up funding to invest in vital public services”. 

The districts contend that having only one council would make this remote from residents.

Although the county unitary idea has drawn support from most of the area’s Conservative MPs, Iain Liddell-Grainger, the Tory MP for Bridgwater, has strongly denounced it in Parliament.

Mr Liddell-Grainger said the county’s case was “false flannel and bare faced lies …I take a dim view of being dictated to by tinpot county councillors”.

If any change goes ahead it will be the second recent local government upheaval in Somerset.

The former West Somerset District Council was judged financially unviable by the Government and merged with Taunton Deane Borough Council in 2019 to form Somerset West & Taunton Council.

Mark Smulian

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