RESIDENTS in Somerset have overwhelmingly voted for a two-council solution to the reorganisation of local government in the county.

Results of a poll - a non-binding 'referendum' organised by the four district councils - were announced this afternoon by the leaders of Mendip, South Somerset, Sedgemoor and Somerset West and Taunton Councils.

And the votes showed that almost two thirds (65.3%) of more than 111,000 people who voted backed the two-council, Stronger Somerset proposal.

The One Somerset, single-council option - as supported by Somerset County Council - received 34.7% of the vote.

Announcing the result, leader of Sedgemoor District Council, Cllr Duncan McGinty, said: "These changes that may lay ahead will affect residents' services and their way of life for decades to come.

"I regret that while we, the four district councils, were able to come together across party lines to put this question to the voters of Somerset, the county council declined to take part.

"Nevertheless, the people of Somerset have now had their chance to consider the options for change in local government and to make their choice."

He added: "It's unfortunate that some have looked to discredit the poll and to stifle debate.

"But democracy has been heard - and the people of Somerset have been heard."

The breakdown of the results by district was as follows:

Stronger Somerset: 68.9%
One Somerset: 31.1%

South Somerset
Stronger Somerset: 67%
One Somerset: 33%

Stronger Somerset: 64.1%
One Somerset: 35.9%

Somerset West & Taunton
Stronger Somerset: 61.7%
One Somerset: 38.3%

The overall totals were:
Stronger Somerset: 65.3%
One Somerset: 34.7%

After the results were announced, Somerset County Council released a statement calling the vote 'deeply flawed, biased and expensive'.

It added: "Residents, businesses and other organisations that are key to local government services in Somerset had already had a well organised and accessible opportunity to make their views known on this matter – through the government’s official consultation.

"The Secretary of State will now make his decision of which proposal best meets the three tests he set out in his invitation to submit proposals for local government reorganisation in the county: a unitary council should improve local government in the county; the proposal should command a good deal of local support in the round; and a unitary council should have a population between 300,000 and 600,000."

The poll caused controversy when it was discovered an incorrect link to the One Somerset proposal website instead diverted readers to a 'spoof' site which decried the proposals, and insulted many of its backers, including county council leader David Fothergill and Taunton Deane MP, Rebecca Pow.

However, the districts vowed to continue with the vote, as the government consultation was carried out wholly online, and during the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown.

And after announcing the result, a statement from the four district council leaders continued to back the ballot.

It said: "This is a crystal clear message to the Secretary of State from the people of Somerset.

"The option for change they prefer is the Stronger Somerset plan for two unitary councils. 

“There are potentially significant changes ahead for local government in Somerset that will affect residents’ services and their quality of life for decades to come. We believed it was important that the residents of Somerset were given a proper say in their future in a simple and democratic way. 

“We put our faith in the voters of Somerset to make up their own minds by organising a local poll, independently run and verified, while others took every opportunity to discredit the poll and to stifle debate.  

“The government claims they had thousands of responses to their consultation, but they cannot say for sure how many came from Somerset residents. More than 111,000 residents have now had their say in this poll – that’s a huge number and cannot be ignored. 

“We thank everyone who has voted in this poll. Their voices must now be taken account of in the decision-making process.  

“People have considered the merits of the options before them, they have made their choice – people prefer their local government more local.

"So, let’s have the decision from the Secretary of State and let’s move forward together to a Stronger Somerset."

Further breakdown of the figures:

Total votes cast: 111,589
Invalid votes: 481
Total votes counted: 111,108

Votes for Stronger Somerset: 72,541 (65.3%)
Votes for One Somerset: 38,547 (34.7%)

Total eligible voters: 436,607
Turnout: 25.6%