Merger Row Masks Deep Cuts to Somerset Services

A cuts-driven restructuring plan risks the quality of council services, UNISON has today warned.

With a 30% budget reduction threatened by 2020, arguments between councillors in Taunton Deane and West Somerset over whether they should merge, collaborate, or go their own way are missing the point.

Transformation plans aim to introduce a call centre approach to handling a wide range of complex queries, from planning and housing, to environmental health and trading standards.  Up to a quarter of skilled and committed staff could lose their jobs as a result. Key council services would also be shifted to an online, self-service platform.

Union reps are doubtful that these plans will improve services to residents and it is likely that older people, vulnerable service users and those living in rural areas will be significantly disadvantaged.

A council merger could trigger a local referendum, but there is no evidence that local people have been consulted about what services they receive or how they should be delivered.

Local UNISON representatives have contacted colleagues in other councils that have trialled this experiment with IT and customer services, including West Devon / South Hams and Eastbourne.

Phil Bisatt, UNISON Branch Secretary said:

“We’ve not seen any evidence that transformation improves services.  In fact the reverse seems to be true.  The new software does not always seem to be working properly, years after its installation, and the changes have been poorly managed so that specialist staff with scarce skills have decided to walk away and work for other council

 “We are only just extricating ourselves from the consequences of Southwest One, yet it looks like we’re being presented with another private sector technological silver bullet designed to solve all our problems.

“The real issue is the Government’s constant squeeze on public funding.  This is what is threatening West Somerset’s viability and Taunton Deane’s economic growth prospects.  If the two councils do merge, the savings must be reinvested in services and the staff that deliver them.”