Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Sajid Javid has been formally requested to back a proposal by six of Dorset’s nine councils for major structural change in the county.
Dorset’s three upper tier councils - the councils that spend the greatest percentage of the county’s local government money and represent every resident of the county, Dorset, Bournemouth and Poole – are supporting this proposal, along with North Dorset, West Dorset and Weymouth & Portland councils.
If agreed by the Secretary of State, this proposal would mean Dorset’s nine existing councils are disbanded and cease to exist. The two new unitary councils that replace them would each deliver all local government services in their areas. They would be structured around the natural established communities of urban and rural Dorset, with one covering Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch, and the other serving the residents of the rest of the county.
Cllr Robert Gould, Leader, Dorset County Council, said: “This proposal is about being aspirational and ambitious for Dorset. It’s a chance in a lifetime to make Dorset a more successful, healthy, vibrant and prosperous county, for everyone who lives here.” He continued, “Two councils working together would collaborate on key matters such as attracting investment and government money, infrastructure planning and land use - something that is impeded by the existence of nine separate councils currently, each with their own, unco-ordinated priorities.”
Cllr Janet Walton, Leader, Borough of Poole, said: “Expectations of delivery are now running high within our communities, with many wanting to know why we have simply not just got on with it. We have listened to those who do not accept the public’s position and to the emphatic public support, business community backing and overwhelming majority of councillors and MPs who do agree with our proposal. We invite those who did not agree to continue to work with us as we make this change happen, because we know this is right for Dorset.”
Cllr John Beesley, Leader, Bournemouth Borough Council added: “This proposal is ambitious, aspirational, and achievable. It makes the savings needed to turn the tide on a decline in services across the county, and means money will continue to be available in the future to empty the bins, fix the roads, protect parks and open spaces and run libraries – things that would be under very real threat if there is no change, as increasing proportions of councils’ spending is needed to fund adult social care and children’s services.”
Cllr Anthony Alford, Leader, West Dorset District Council, said: “This change is not driven by a desire for greater power, to protect individual positions or preserve any specific council just for the sake of it. In fact, quite the opposite. As well as a financial imperative, this proposal could deliver a prize that is far greater than any council can achieve in its current form. The opportunities to really transform how public services are delivered in the county is breath-taking, and the benefits this would have for local people equally inspiring.”
Cllr Graham Carr-Jones, Leader, North Dorset District Council, commented, “Dorset’s councils have reached the end of the road in the efficiencies and savings we can drive out of our existing organisations. We have pushed our current structures way beyond our duty to co-operate – for example through the Dorset Waste Partnership, Stour Valley Partnership and WestWey Partnership. We are forecast to have saved £200million across the county in the 10 years to 2019/20. With an ongoing budget black-hole beyond then, change is now imperative and urgent in order to create sustainable councils for the future.”
Cllr Jeff Cant, Leader, Weymouth & Portland Borough Council, said, “I share people’s sense of pride in their areas. This is about how services are delivered, not how individual areas or ancient towns are seen. The unique history and culture of each Dorset town and village is of course cherished, and we will actively seek to preserve and protect these elements for the future. In Weymouth, for example, we are actively facilitating devolution to local communities, by setting up a Town Council.”
These six councils consider the evidence for change is compelling and that there is no other option. Dorset’s councils have developed this proposal in an inclusive and collaborative way, and are committed to continue with this approach.
More information about the Future Dorset proposal