A GROUP of council leaders have held behind-closed-doors talks that could end in the scrapping of their own authorities.

The leaders and chief executives of the five district councils sat down with their Somerset County Council counterparts and a team of consultants at the meeting earlier this month.

It comes after County Hall leader Cllr David Fothergill called for a discussion on the possibility of merging all the councils into a unitary, countywide authority.

But Taunton Deane Borough Council opposition member Cllr Habib Farbahi said the get together was evidence of a "lack of strategic foresight" among Conservatives.

He recalled a meeting in 2007 when Deane leader Cllr John Williams and chief executive Penny James opposed creating a unitary authority.

Cllr Farbahi said: "The only difference was that 11 years ago the county council wasn't in any financial difficulties and was recognised nationally as having very sound financial management by the Audit Commission and by our external auditors.

"Its target for efficiency savings alone was greater than the total net budget of some district councils – under the LibDems' control the council was forward thinking and proactive.

"The financial plan would have paid back the set up and transition costs in the first two years and would have delivered sustainable savings of £27 million per annum as well as limiting future tax increases to two per cent for the first five years.

"This is a clear example of the lack of strategic foresight the Conservative administrations at county and district level exercise.

"In addition this lack of strategic financial vision has been further exacerbated by the fiscal irresponsibility of

spending almost £10 million with the failing council of West Somerset and reducing our staff levels to the barest minimum. Most Tory administrations have come to a conclusion that unitary is potentially the only option.

"Once again the only losers are the taxpayers and service recipients."

In a joint statement, Cllr Williams and Ms James said: "The leaders and chief executives of the six councils of Somerset met last week to progress the work on the future of local government in Somerset.

"It is recognised that there is an opportunity to do things differently and better, building on the successful partnership that exists between the councils and other public service providers.

"Changes in demand and pressure on resources also mean that changes to the way we work are necessary if local government is going to better meet the needs of all the Somerset communities.

"The councils of Somerset have commissioned research into options for change and how they will ensure sustainable service provision that meets community needs."