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Dorset councils agree to proceed with unitary reforms

Dorset councils have obtained a mandate to go ahead with their proposals to change the county’s local government structure.

The plans, which would see Dorset’s current nine councils replaced with two new unitary authorities, have now been considered by all nine councils with six of them supporting the plans.

Councillors have spent the last month discussing evidence surrounding the proposals after receiving ‘clear backing’ from the county’s residents in a consultation last autumn.

Matt Prosser, chairman of the Dorset Chief Executives Group, said that the group is “proud” of its respective councils for making the right decision in backing change.

“We are collectively committed to doing the right thing for our residents and for the whole of the county – to protect services, to raise Dorset’s profile, to grow the economy, and to generate prosperity and an enhanced lifestyle for all those who live here. All the evidence shows that this proposal will do just that and more,” Prosser said.

“We now have a mandate from our councils and we have the backing of the public and other stakeholders - that is clear from the consultation results. Now, we have a duty to respond to that mandate and secure a sustainable and even brighter future for Dorset.”

While Bournemouth, Dorset County, North Dorset, Poole, West Dorset and Weymouth & Portland councils have supported the deal, three councils – East Dorset, Purbeck and Christchurch – voted against the proposals, with Purbeck’s chair using his vote to break a dead heat between councillors.

Christchurch has long been resistant to the deal, with the council expressing its preference for no change in local government arrangements and even the borough’s MP, Christopher Chope, criticising the public consultation for being ‘inadequate’.

“Whilst Christchurch Borough Council may not have supported the case for change, the secretary of state submission made by those councils that have agreed the recommendation might see the final decision regarding local government reorganisation taken out of our hands,” said the council’s leader Cllr Ray Nottage.

“My priority moving forward is continuing to achieve the best possible outcome for our residents.”

Dorset’s council leaders will now meet on 8 February to agree the formal proposal to be sent to the communities secretary, Sajid Javid, who will be asked to authorise the creation of the two unitary authorities.

The councils are expected to come into being from April 2019 with the first elections to take place the following month.

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Steve Lugg   02/02/2017 at 12:59

I think any deal that enforces a change of governance on Dorset residents without concensus, risks failing. The biggest factor in change management is culture, and if all parties are not agreed, this is doomed to fail. It is not Local Government's job to fill gaps in Central Government policy, and the small revenue budgets of district councils could not credibly pretend to be the solution. Given that a single Unitary would be more efficient, but shameful is not politically deliverable, to force this through is without integrity. I understand the Secretary of State will not impose a solution.

Colin Bungey   03/02/2017 at 15:12

The main winners in these proposals are Dorset County Council and Bournemouth Councils. The three councils who voted against have the most to lose Christchurch and East Dorset Councils are debt free with substantial assets, they have worked in partnership over a number of years to achieve this position whilst others have not been as prudent. If the Secretary of State ignores their wishes and imposes an unwanted solution it could be predicted that Conservative support in those areas would go into meltdown.

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