CAMPAIGN: Somerset rallies locals behind power struggle

In October 2006, the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) decided to replace the two-tier structure of local government with a unitary system and asked ­local authorities to come up with ways to do this.

Campaign Keep Somerset Local
Client Five Somerset councils: Sedgemoor, Taunton, Deane, Mendip, West Somerset, South Somerset
PR team Freshwater with the comms teams from the five councils
Timescale October 2006-July 2007
Budget Undisclosed

In March 2007, 16 proposals were shortlisted for stakeholder consultation, including one for Somerset. Further information had to be submitted by early July, when the DCLG was to decide which bids would proceed.

To persuade the DCLG that a new unitary authority in Somerset was not wanted by the county.

Three stages were identified as being the most likely points at which the proposal could be defeated: before the bid was submitted; when bids were being evaluated prior to shortlisting, and during the stakeholder consultation phase.

To generate evidence that local people were opposed to unitary status, a survey was commissioned from YouGov and local media were persuaded to carry out surveys. Emeritus professor Michael Chisholm was then appointed to review the proposal and write an evaluation paper.

After the bid was submitted, a lobbying campaign was implemented at Westminster and Whitehall with the aim of persuading the Government not to shortlist the Somerset bid.

After the bid had been shortlisted, the campaign shifted to focus on the lack of stakeholder support. A PR drive was launched to inform Somerset residents and other stakeholders about the proposed unitary authority and encourage them to vote in a county-wide poll. The integrated campaign included media relations, leaflets, posters, events, website, online and hard-copy petitions and lobbying.

Around 200,000 people – almost half of the county’s population – voted in the poll, a turnout on a par with that in a general election. More than 80 per cent said ‘no’ to the unitary authority, as did the majority of other stakeholders.

On 25 July, communities secretary Hazel Blears rejected the proposal for a unitary authority for Somerset due to the lack of support from stakeholders and the public.

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