Dorset MP condemns ‘inadequate and untruthful’ consultation on council reform plans

Plans to abolish Christchurch Borough Council and East Dorset District Council as part of a local government reorganisation have been condemned for their lack of transparency by a local MP.

Proposals are currently being discussed to replace the nine Dorset councils with two unitary authorities, following a public consultation which ran between August and October.

In a House of Commons debate he called on 1 December, Christopher Chope, the MP for Christchurch, condemned the plans for being introduced without the approval of the borough and district councils.

“It is hardly surprising that the public consultation has been so criticised as inadequate, biased and, indeed, untruthful,” Chope said, adding that the plans had met widespread opposition among his constituents and that the consultation had been “designed to mislead respondents into believing that no change in structures was not an option”.

In particular, he said his constituents were not aware that Christchurch Borough Council would be replaced with a new town council, based in Christchurch, which would be funded by adding an extra £150 a year to Band D council tax.

But Simon Hoare, the MP for North Dorset, argued that there would be sufficient transparency because all the councils would debate the plans over December and January.

Overall, Chope criticised the plans because the only argument in favour of abolishing the councils was financial, with the consultation warning that “major savings” would be needed if Dorset retains nine separate councils.

The Dorset councils are facing a combined shortfall of £30m between 2019 and 2025. However, Chope said that when this figure was compared to the £920m a year spent by all the regional councils, and the estimated £25m costs of reorganisation, the case in favour was “extraordinarily weak”.

Responding to Chope’s arguments, local government minister Marcus Jones said: “What Dorset councils are doing is exactly what councils should be doing. They are looking into how they can deliver better services to the towns, villages and people of Dorset, how they can provide stronger, more efficient and more effective leadership, and how they can generate significant savings to support front-line services.

“None of that is to say that we have concluded that any of the proposals on which the councils have consulted, and will consult further, are the right ones.”

Separately, plans to establish a Dorset combined authority, consisting of representatives of all nine councils and the local enterprise partnership, are due to go ahead in April 2017.

(Image c. Wikipedia)

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E.Katz   07/12/2016 at 20:19

The consultation on this extremely important issue was scheduled for the mimimum permitted length of time . This haste did not serve democracy well. In order to make a meaningful decision, respondants had to inform themselves sufficiently to critically evaluate the information provided with the questionnaire. They had to understand a complex choice and read between the lines.The fact that the questionnaire was misleading, with layout of choices strongly slanted towards merger, made a mockery of the whole notion of consultation.

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