Whilst the majority of elected members at South Hams District Council had voted in favour of a merger which would have created one new authority, West Devon Borough Councillors voted against in a surprise move.
19 South Hams councillors voted to submit the proposals to the Secretary of State, while 8 voted against and 3 abstained. In West Devon the majority voted against the idea, with 18 rejecting it and only 13 supporting it. The vote came following a public consultation in which 55% of respondents were against the idea of a merger.
In an era of stretched local government budgets, the idea of merging councils is becoming more common. The current budget gap forecast for 2020/21 for West Devon in £1.1m and £0.8m for South Hams, a total of £1.9m. The proposed measures would have saved up to £0.5m a year. Further savings would also have resulted from a reduction in the number of councillors on the new body.
South Hams Leader Cllr John Tucker said in response to the shock vote:
“The merger is now dead in the water. Even if we could revive it there would be no enthusiasm It has put a big strain on relationships…any joint working between members will be suspended.”
The two councils already have a long history of joint working to save money. They have been working together for the last decade, leading to a more streamlined workforce across the two districts and savings of £6m each year.