SOMERSET taxpayers could see their public services take a temporary dip as efforts to bring a new council into being reach a critical phase.

Somerset West and Taunton Council will replace Taunton Deane Borough Council and West Somerset Council on April 1, ahead of the May local elections.

As part of the process, a transformation programme is being undertaken to make the delivery of public services across both areas more efficient and financially sustainable in the years ahead.

But councillors are worried about the standard of services being provided while the transformation is ongoing – and whether the public’s expectations can be met as a result.

Officers have admitted they cannot be certain how much disruption there will be – because work to recruit new staff have not yet been completed.

Numerous ward members expressed their concerns at a meeting of the new authority’s shadow scrutiny committee in Williton on Monday (January 14).

Councillor Jefferson Horsley said: “We cannot under take our roles as councillors seriously because of the drop in performance we are already seeing.”

He added he feared councillors would be unable to properly scrutinise council decisions if such trends continued.

Other councillors weighed in with their concerns about the council’s day-to-day operation and how difficult officers were proving to contact.

James Barrah, the council’s director of housing and communities, said all aspects of the transformation programme were “on track”, taking into account additional funding for redundancies which was agreed in November.

He added: “We are going through substantial change to ensure we can be a sustainable organisation who can provide services to our customers. It’s a short-term impact for a longer-term benefit.”

Councillor Libby Lisgo said: “I’m genuinely worried about what your communications plan is, because the report that we have on this item hints at a lot of things, but isn’t actually honest with us about where the major pinch points are.

“I think I know where one or two or them are, but I don’t know where all of them are. If all of these risks go wrong over the next six months, we’ve got a major problem on our hands.

“What do we do if we don’t have enough staff to populate all areas on April 1? I’m asking this not to be difficult, but because I’m genuinely worried.”

Mr Barrah said: “The honest answer is we don’t yet know what the impact will be.

“This is about fundamentally changing how we do business – we haven’t done this before and we are trying our best to do this in a way which doesn’t disrupt our customers. “

The committee will receive a further update on the transformation programme in March.