THE head of the Conservatives in South Somerset said she has been convinced that "there is a strong case for a single authority" in the county.

Cllr Linda Vijeh is the district councillor for Neroche, the county councillor for Ilminster, and opposition leader on South Somerset District Council.

Her comments have come after the leader of Somerset County Council called for local government to be completely restructured throughout the county.

Cllr David Fothergill first floated the idea in May 2018 and suggested it could save the county ‘up to £28million’ a year - and maintains this is still the best option in 2020.

However, a 2007 vote on similar council changes saw it rejected by the public, and Cllr Fothergill's new calls have seen the four district councils have come out in opposition.

These are South Somerset (Lib Dem majority), Taunton Deane and West Somerset (Lib Dem majority), Sedgemoor (Conservative majority) and Mendip (Lib Dem majority).

Cllr Vijeh said: "Unsurprisingly, the Future of Local Government has been making the headlines this month.

"Where local authorities have been at the mercy of central government funding cuts in recent years, and with little appetite for raising council tax to cope with the increase in demand across all services, both Somerset County Council and all four Districts have been stretched to the limit.

"What is clear, going forward, is that something has to change if we are not just to survive, but to move forward sustainably, taking into account the challenges our modern society faces. Doing nothing is not an option."

A report into the possible future structure was commissioned at a cost of £167,000, which was split between the county council and the four district councils.

North Somerset, and Bath and North East Somerset are not involved.

The report investigated seven options, with the councils' current planned savings expected to total £10m, and a single unitary authority predicted to see £47m in annual savings.

Cllr Vijeh added: "For sometime, the leaders and chief executives of our local authorities have been meeting to consider options for our future; a presentation outlining a number of possibilities has been put before elected members.

"What I would like to have seen is a clearer indication of the pros and cons of the options put forward.

"Personally, I have never been a fan of ‘big’ organisations, but since attending a Local Government Association weekend at Warwick University, with councillors from across the country, I have revised my opinion.

"The majority were from unitary authorities and without exception they felt that as a result the people they represent were better served, in a more efficient and cost-effective way."

If there was a unitary council from Chard to Burnham-on-Sea, and from Minehead to Yeovil, then the number of councillors across the area would also fall from 300 to between 100 and 125.

Cllr Vijeh said: "A unitary authority has single tier responsibility for all local government functions within a given area.

"At present, under our two-tier system, when making enquiries or raising concerns, members of the public are confused about which local authority to approach, and it often falls to elected members to act as intermediaries.

"This lack of clarity can result in unnecessary bureaucracy, duplication of effort and disorganised serviced delivery, with the additional cost that goes with such a level of inefficiency.

"My contact with other unitary authorities has demonstrated that there is a strong case for a single authority to be able to prioritise and plan across all public services, without the constraints of red tape and conflicting priorities or decision-making schedules.

"Having one strategy and one direction will also release much needed funding opportunities."

Cllr Fothergill has said the savings could be spent on 'new schools, better roads, investing in climate change, and more buses'.

"The vision of the future favoured by Somerset’s district councils, who seem to be in accord, is for them to work more closely together," Cllr Vijeh added.

"I would argue that we have always had the opportunity to work more closely together but there is little evidence of this being effective; each authority has its own priorities and agenda.

"As a largely rural community, if we are to maximise our impact, and the influence we can have on central government for the benefit of our residents, then we must come together and act with one voice.

"Everyone agrees, something must change.

"As the Leader of the South Somerset Conservative Group, I am heartened that when it comes to submitting the business case for a unitary authority, we are all in agreement that at the very least it is something that should not be dismissed out of hand without further exploration, rather than bow to the views of those councillors who may be fearful of losing their jobs."