Jump to content

Somerset Council

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
(Redirected from Somerset County Council)

Somerset Council
The coat of arms of the council
Founded1 April 1889 (Administrative)
1 April 1974 (Non-metropolitan)
Mike Best,
Liberal Democrats
since 25 May 2022[1]
Bill Revans,
Liberal Democrats
since 25 May 2022[2]
Duncan Sharkey
since 3 October 2022[3]
Seats110 councillors
Political groups
Administration (61)
  Liberal Democrats (61)
Other parties (49)
  Conservative (33)
  Green (5)
  Labour (5)
  Independent (5)
  Reform UK (1)
First past the post
Last election
5 May 2022
Next election
6 May 2027
Meeting place
County Hall at Taunton
County Hall, The Crescent, Taunton, TA1 4DY
www.somerset.gov.uk Edit this at Wikidata

Somerset Council, known until 2023 as Somerset County Council, is the local authority for the non-metropolitan county of Somerset in South West England. Since 2023 it has been a unitary authority, being a county council which also performs the functions of a district council. The non-metropolitan county of Somerset is smaller than the ceremonial county, which additionally includes Bath and North East Somerset and North Somerset.

The council has been under Liberal Democrat majority control since 2022. It is based at County Hall in Taunton.



Elected county councils were established in 1889 under the Local Government Act 1888, taking over administrative functions previously carried out by unelected magistrates at the quarter sessions.[4] The city of Bath was considered large enough to run its own county-level services, and so it was made a county borough, independent from Somerset County Council. The county council was elected by and provided services to the rest of the county, which area was termed the administrative county.[5][6]

Shire Hall, Taunton: the council's meeting place 1889–2020

The first elections were held on 23 January 1889 and the county council formally came into being on 1 April 1889, on which day it held its first official meeting at the Town Hall in Highbridge. The first chairman was Richard Paget, who had been the chairman of the quarter sessions which preceded the county council, and was also the Conservative MP for Mid Somerset. At that first meeting, the council debated where future meetings should be held. Some advocated that meetings should be held alternately at the Shire Hall in Taunton and the Town Hall in Wells, as the quarter sessions had been. The council decided to meet solely in Taunton. Councillors noted that although Wells was more central to the county, it was only served by branch line railways, whereas Taunton station had direct services to more destinations across the county.[7]

When local government was reformed in 1974 under the Local Government Act 1972, Somerset ceded north-eastern parts of its territory to the new county of Avon, and the reduced Somerset was designated as a non-metropolitan county. The lower tier of local government was reorganised as part of the same reforms. Prior to 1974 it had comprised numerous boroughs, urban districts and rural districts. After 1974 the lower tier within the redefined Somerset comprised five non-metropolitan districts: Mendip, Sedgemoor, South Somerset, Taunton Deane, and West Somerset.[8] In 2019, West Somerset and Taunton Deane were merged to form Somerset West and Taunton.[9]

Avon was abolished in 1996, being divided into four unitary authorities.[10] Two of them, Bath and North East Somerset and North Somerset, cover the areas that had been ceded by Somerset in 1974. For the ceremonial purposes of lieutenancy and shrievalty, those two districts were restored to Somerset as part of the 1996 reforms. However, they were not brought into the non-metropolitan county of Somerset. Since 1996 there have therefore been two differing legal definitions of Somerset in use: the non-metropolitan county, being the area administered by Somerset County Council (called Somerset Council since 2023), and the ceremonial county, which also includes Bath and North East Somerset and North Somerset.[11][12]

Conversion to unitary authority

Logo used before the unitary changes in 2023

The first proposal to create a Somerset unitary authority was made in 2007,[13] but was rejected in a local referendum.[14]

The idea of replacing Somerset's two tiers of local government with unitary authorities was revived as part of the 2019–2023 structural changes to local government in England.[15] The county council drew up initial plans for a single unitary authority in 2018.[16] The district councils proposed an alternative model of two unitary authorities called East Somerset and West Somerset.[17] A non-binding referendum of residents held in June 2021 expressed a preference for the two-authority proposal.[18] Nevertheless, the government selected the plan for a single authority.[19][20][21]

The way the change was implemented was to replace the four districts with a single district of Somerset matching the non-metropolitan county, but with no separate district council; instead the existing county council took on district-level functions, making it a unitary authority. As part of the changes, the county council was given the option of omitting the word 'county' from its name, which it took, becoming Somerset Council from 1 April 2023 when the changes took effect.[22]



Somerset Council provides both county-level and district-level functions. The whole county is also covered by civil parishes, which form a second tier of local government.[23]

Somerset Council appoints seven members to the Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Authority.[24]

Political control


The council has been under Liberal Democrat majority control since 2022.[25]

Political control of the council since the 1974 reforms has been as follows:[26][27]

Two-tier non-metropolitan county council

Party in control Years
Conservative 1974–1985
No overall control 1985–1989
Conservative 1989–1993
Liberal Democrats 1993–2001
No overall control 2001–2005
Liberal Democrats 2005–2009
Conservative 2009–2022
Liberal Democrats 2022–2023

Unitary authority

Party in control Years
Liberal Democrats 2023–present



The leaders of the council since 1993 have been:[28]

Councillor Party From To
Chris Clarke Liberal Democrats 1993 2001
Cathy Bakewell Liberal Democrats 2001 16 May 2007
Jill Shortland Liberal Democrats 16 May 2007 24 Jun 2009
Ken Maddock Conservative 24 Jun 2009 16 May 2012
John Osman Conservative 16 May 2012 7 May 2017
David Fothergill Conservative 24 May 2017 25 May 2022
Bill Revans[29] Liberal Democrats 25 May 2022



Following the 2022 election and subsequent by-elections and changes of allegiance up to May 2024, the composition of the council was as follows:[30][31]

Party Councillors
Liberal Democrats 61
Conservative 33
Green 5
Labour 5
Independent 5
Reform UK 1
Total 110

Three of the independent councillors sit together as a group.[32] The next election is due in 2027.



The last full review of electoral boundaries took effect in 2013, when the county was divided into 54 electoral divisions, each of which elected one councillor except for the Glastonbury and Street division which elected two.[33] As part of the process leading up to becoming a unitary authority in 2023, the election that should have been held in 2021 was postponed until 2022, at which election the number of councillors was doubled. Each division then elected two councillors, and the old Glastonbury and Street division was divided into two divisions each of which elected two councillors, giving 110 councillors in total. The councillors who were elected in 2022 are due to serve an extended five-year term until 2027, after which elections will be held every four years.[22][34]



The council has its headquarters at County Hall on The Crescent in Taunton, which was purpose-built for the council and opened in 1935. The complex has been subsequently extended, notably with a large tower block in the 1960s.[35]

When first created in 1889, the council chose to meet at Shire Hall in Taunton, a courthouse completed in 1858 which had been one of the meeting places of the quarter sessions which preceded the county council.[36] County Hall was built immediately to the east of Shire Hall to accommodate the council's offices, but full council meetings continued to be held in the council chamber at Shire Hall until 2020.[37] In-person council meetings were suspended in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the resumption of in-person meetings in 2021, full council meetings have been held in various larger venues across the county, initially to allow for social distancing and since 2022 to accommodate the larger number of councillors.[38]

The council has several other administrative buildings across the county, including the offices of the former district councils that it inherited in 2023.[39] As at March 2024 the council was considering its options for how to reduce the number of buildings it operates.[40]

Children's services


In January 2013, Ofsted inspectors gave Somerset Councils' Children’s Services the lowest rating of "inadequate".[41]

In January 2015, Ofsted reinspected the Children’s Services Department and concluded that it remained "inadequate". The corresponding report found no improvement in the care provided by the children's services and described a "corporate failure" to keep children safe. Ofsted found there were "widespread or serious failures" which it considered placed children to be harmed or at risk of harm. The report also identified managers who "have not been able to demonstrate sufficient understanding of failures" and had been ineffective in "prioritising, challenging and making improvements".[42]

In January 2015, Julian Wooster was appointed director of Children's Services, the fifth such appointment in five years.[42]

In November 2017, the service was inspected by Ofsted. Services were judged to have improved, but still "require[d] improvement to be good" in all but one area. The report found that services for children needing help and protection required improvement, as did leadership, management and governance. The inspectors concluded that too many children in foster care experienced moves between placements before they were found the right home. Inspectors singled out adoption services as being "good".[43]

In July 2022, the service was judged by Ofsted to be "good" in all areas, but found that two areas still needed improvement: placement sufficiency, and the take-up of return home interviews for children who have been missing.[44]

Funding cuts


Somerset County Council needed to save £19.5 million in 2017/18, but only cut £11.1 million. Cuts were announced to highways, public transport and special needs services. Staff were told to take two days off unpaid for the coming two years. The chief executive said he had "no choice" because of cuts to central government funding. Further proposed cuts include reducing winter gritting, suspending 'park and ride' services, stopping funding for Citizens Advice, cutting adult social care and support for people with learning difficulties, cuts to the GetSet programme which helps stop vulnerable young people needing social care.[45][46]

In July 2018, two senior Conservative councillors resigned over concerns regarding the council's handling of financial matters. Dean Ruddle and Neil Bloomfield had previously held roles as the respective chair and vice chair of the audit committee.[47] An official audit of the council criticised its "pervasive" overspending and its failure to deliver sufficient savings over the previous 12 months.[48] In September 2018, the council voted through £28 million of spending cuts, spread over the next two years. Critics of the cuts, including Labour and Liberal Democrat councillors, noted that between 2009 and 2016, Somerset's Conservative administration had voted to freeze Council Tax, when an increase of 1.9% would have brought in an additional £114 million.[41]

Following the change to unitary status, in November 2023 the council declared a financial emergency, projecting an overspend of £27 million in that year and a deficit of £100 million for 2024–2025, arising in part from an expected increase of £70 million in the cost of adult social care.[49][50] It was also reported that the council had inherited Council Tax arrears of more than £43 million from the four district councils.[51]

Notable members

Incomplete list, in chronological order

See also



  1. ^ "Councillor details". Somerset Council. Retrieved 1 April 2023.
  2. ^ "Somerset election results 2022: Lib Dems win control". BBC News. 6 May 2022.
  3. ^ Hill, Phil (3 October 2022). "Duncan Sharkey's first day as CEO at Somerset County Council". Somerset County Gazette. Retrieved 25 December 2023.
  4. ^ Edwards, John (1955). 'County' in Chambers's Encyclopedia. London: George Newnes. pp. 189–191.
  5. ^ Keane, Patrick (1973). "An English County and Education: Somerset, 1889–1902". The English Historical Review. 88 (347): 286–311. doi:10.1093/ehr/LXXXVIII.CCCXLVII.286.
  6. ^ "Somerset Administrative County". A Vision of Britain through Time. GB Historical GIS / University of Portsmouth. Retrieved 19 July 2024.
  7. ^ "Somerset County Council". Langport and Somerton Herald. 6 April 1889. p. 5.
  8. ^ "The England Non-metropolitan Districts (Definition) Order 1972", legislation.gov.uk, The National Archives, SI 1972/2039, retrieved 20 July 2024
  9. ^ "The Somerset West and Taunton (Local Government Changes) Order 2018", legislation.gov.uk, The National Archives, SI 2018/649, retrieved 20 July 2024
  10. ^ "The Avon (Structural Change) Order 1995", legislation.gov.uk, The National Archives, SI 1995/493, retrieved 20 July 2024
  11. ^ "The Local Government Changes for England (Miscellaneous Provision) Regulations 1995". legislation.gov.uk. The National Archives. SI 1995/1748. Retrieved 6 March 2024.
  12. ^ "Lieutenancies Act 1997". legislation.gov.uk. The National Archives. 1997 c. 23. Retrieved 20 March 2024.
  13. ^ "A unitary council for Somerset". Somerset County Council. Archived from the original on 30 September 2007. Retrieved 29 June 2007.
  14. ^ Copus, Colin. "The political and governance implications of unitary reorganisation". Local Government Association. Retrieved 20 July 2024.
  15. ^ Bunn, Jon (2 October 2019). "Jenrick: 'no long-term future' for districts in devo push". Local Government Chronicle (LGC). Retrieved 24 January 2022.
  16. ^ "REVEALED: Plans to scrap SIX Somerset councils in bid to save millions". Somerset County Gazette. 2 May 2018. Retrieved 24 January 2022.
  17. ^ "Unitary Somerset: 'Based on a giant lie' or 'the right way forward' for the county's future?". Somerset County Gazette. 22 October 2020. Retrieved 24 January 2022.
  18. ^ "Somerset: controversial poll opts for two-council future". BBC News. 7 June 2021. Retrieved 7 May 2022.
  19. ^ "Somerset councils to merge into single unitary authority". BBC News. 22 July 2021. Retrieved 24 January 2022.
  20. ^ "Next steps for new unitary councils in Cumbria, North Yorkshire and Somerset". GOV.UK. Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government. 21 July 2021. Retrieved 24 January 2022.
  21. ^ "Frequently Asked Questions". New Somerset Council. 2021. Archived from the original on 1 January 2022 – via Internet Archive.
  22. ^ a b "The Somerset (Structural Changes) Order 2022: Article 3", legislation.gov.uk, The National Archives, SI 2022/329 (art. 3), retrieved 20 July 2024
  23. ^ "Election Maps". Ordnance Survey. Retrieved 20 July 2024.
  24. ^ "Your Authority Members". Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Authority. Retrieved 3 July 2023.
  25. ^ "Somerset election results 2022: Lib Dems win control". BBC News. 6 May 2022. Retrieved 20 July 2024.
  26. ^ "Somerset". BBC News Online. 19 April 2009. Retrieved 18 March 2010.
  27. ^ "Compositions calculator". The Elections Centre. 4 March 2016. Retrieved 27 March 2024.
  28. ^ "Council minutes". Somerset County Council. Retrieved 16 June 2022.
  29. ^ "New leader and executive confirmed at Somerset County Council". West Somerset Free Press. 25 May 2022. Retrieved 3 July 2023.
  30. ^ "Somerset election results 2022: Lib Dems win control". BBC News. 6 May 2022. Retrieved 7 May 2022.
  31. ^ "Somerset". Local Councils. Thorncliffe. Retrieved 19 July 2024.
  32. ^ "Your councillors by party". Somerset Council. Retrieved 19 July 2024.
  33. ^ "The Somerset (Electoral Changes) Order 2012: Article 3", legislation.gov.uk, The National Archives, SI 2012/2984 (art. 3), retrieved 20 July 2024
  34. ^ "Elections for new Somerset Council to be held in May 2022". BBC News. 2 December 2021. Archived from the original on 1 January 2022. Retrieved 1 January 2022.
  35. ^ Historic England. "A Block County Hall and entrance forecourt and pavements (Grade II) (1246219)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 20 July 2024.
  36. ^ Historic England. "Shire Hall (Grade II) (1059958)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 20 July 2024.
  37. ^ "Somerset County Council meeting, 19 February 2020". Somerset Council. Retrieved 20 July 2024.
  38. ^ "Calendar of meetings". Somerset Council. Retrieved 20 July 2024.
  39. ^ "Our locations". Somerset Council. Retrieved 20 July 2024.
  40. ^ Ruminski, Michelle (8 March 2024). "Somerset Council could sell part of County Hall to raise money". BBC News. Retrieved 20 July 2024.
  41. ^ a b Harris, John (14 September 2018). "'Lost for words': Somerset cuts £28m of help for most vulnerable". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 14 September 2018. Retrieved 14 September 2018.
  42. ^ a b "Children's services still inadequate". BBC News. 27 March 2015. Archived from the original on 18 September 2018. Retrieved 14 September 2018.
  43. ^ "Children's services require improvement". BBC News. 2018. Archived from the original on 17 September 2018. Retrieved 14 September 2018.
  44. ^ "Inspection of Somerset local authority children's services". Ofsted. 29 July 2022. Retrieved 3 July 2023.
  45. ^ Somerset County Council proposes 130 job losses and cuts Archived 6 September 2018 at the Wayback Machine BBC
  46. ^ 'Lost for words': Somerset cuts £28m of help for most vulnerable Archived 14 September 2018 at the Wayback Machine The Guardian
  47. ^ "Senior Tories quit over budget crisis". BBC News. 19 July 2018. Archived from the original on 22 July 2018. Retrieved 20 July 2018.
  48. ^ Mumby, Daniel (20 July 2018). "This council could 'run out of money' in next few years". somersetlive. Archived from the original on 20 July 2018. Retrieved 20 July 2018.
  49. ^ "Council steps up response to 'financial emergency'". Somerset Council. 13 November 2023. Retrieved 20 December 2023.
  50. ^ Scancariello, Antonio (19 November 2023). "Council leader writes to residents as authority risks 'bankruptcy'". Chard & Ilminster News. Retrieved 20 December 2023.
  51. ^ "Rotten Boroughs (quoting the Leveller newspaper)". Private Eye. No. 1611. 17 November 2023. p. 15.
  52. ^ Christine Bellamy, Administering central-local relations, 1871-1919, p. 77
  53. ^ Obituary Sir Arthur Hobhouse: A long record of public service in The Times, 21 January 1965
  54. ^ "Sir John Wills" (obituary) in The Times, 31 August 1998, p. 23 Gale IF0500216285
  55. ^ "Sir Michael Gass" (obituary) in The Times dated 2 March 1983, p. 14
  56. ^ Tributes paid Archived 17 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine, 17 December 2009 by Firstonline
  57. ^ Sir Chris Clarke Archived 13 April 2010 at the Wayback Machine, editorial dated 16 December 2009 at aldc.org
  58. ^ 'Gass, Elizabeth Periam Acland Hood, (Lady Gass)’, in Who's Who 2012 (London: A. & C. Black, 2012)
  59. ^ Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Archived 29 June 2011 at the Wayback Machine at libdems.org.uk