Residents Reject Council Merger

Ben Fox
Ben Fox

Residents in the South Hams and West Devon districts have rejected the plans for a merger between the two councils.

If the merger were to go ahead, it could mean that residents that are currently in the South Hams region could see their council tax rates rise.

The idea for the merger came about as an exercise to try and cut the current funding gap of the two councils.

South Hams predicts that creating a single council could save up to £500,000 a year, not counting higher income from an increase in council tax.
During an eight-week consultation on the proposals the majority of responses (73%) came from an online survey.

The councils also commissioned an independent telephone survey of residents.The councils also commissioned an independent telephone survey of residents.
In the telephone survey:

South Hams 41.4% said ‘yes’ and 58.6% said ‘no’.
West Devon 61.1% said ‘yes’ and 38.9% said ‘no’.
The combined result 51.15% for and 48.85% against.

But the results from all consultation channels – telephone, online and paper survey – painted a different picture:
South Hams: 14.02% for; 85.98% against.West Devon: 44.54% for; 55.46% against.Combined: 23.61% for; 76.39% against.

A council spokesman said: “Despite the proposals being dubbed “controversial”, only 3% of the population in the South Hams and 2.5% of population in West Devon responded to the consultation.”

Cllr John Tucker, leader of South Hams District Council said: “We are disappointed that despite extensive consultation 97% of the population did not take the opportunity to have their say.
“Of the 3% of people who did, we do know that the majority in South Hams are unhappy with proposals to form a new council.

“Most of the responses were made via the online survey. However we also carried out a statistically representative telephone survey which gave a very different view indicating a much higher level of support in favour of the single council proposal.”

The role of the overview and the consultation to form one new council was run over an eight-week period. During this time the council sent out almost 70,000 postcards, one to every household.
The councils held more than 27 events in public places across South Hams and West Devon. Many of these meetings were deliberately held during prearranged events so councillors could talk to people who do not normally have a reason to engage with the local authority other than to have their waste collected, or to pay their council tax.

South Hams and West Devon have been sharing services since 2007, saving them £6 million a year. But they still face a combined budget gap of £1.9 million a year after 2020, as government money dries up further.

At the start of the consultation, Cllr Tucker said: “If we do not do this, there is a risk that South Hams will run out of money after 2020, due to the lack of funding.
“We want to make sure we consider all options to continue funding those services we know are vital to local communities.”

Local Life