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Dorset councils announce collective support for major restructuring

Dorset’s nine councils have confirmed that they support replacing the region’s current governance arrangements with two unitary authorities.

A consultation found that almost three-quarters of 17,000 residents support the restructuring, described as a measure to help the councils balance their budgets.

Following a meeting, the councils released a statement saying: “It is clear to us that the public are convinced that two new unitary councils would offer an opportunity to radically transform public services to meet the needs and ambitions of residents and businesses across the county.

“Change would also strengthen Dorset’s voice at a national level and, crucially, achieve the significant financial savings we must make to protect frontline services in the future.”

They added that the ‘Medium Conurbation and Medium Dorset’ option was “the front runner in the public’s mind”, although no decisions had been made yet.

Under these proposals, the ‘Medium Conurbation’ will cover the urban areas of Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole, while ‘Medium Dorset’ will cover the rural areas of East Dorset, North Dorset, Purbeck, West Dorset, Weymouth and Portland.

The services currently provided by Dorset County Council will be divided between them.

The consultation described this option as “the most financially beneficial”, with projected savings of £46.7m towards the 2024-25 funding gap.

It added that it “potentially provides the most effective and efficient way to deliver services for the future”.

The decision by Dorset councils to endorse the restructuring comes despite opposition from Christchurch.

At an extraordinary general meeting on 13 December, Christchurch Borough Council members voted that no change in local government arrangements was their preferred option.

Cllr Ray Nottage, leader of the council, said he raised the council’s viewpoint at the meeting, but its responsibility was now to “take the recommendation through the democratic process to further review all the evidence presented”.

In a recent House of Commons debate Christopher Chope, the MP for Christchurch, said the consultation process for the reforms had been “inadequate, biased and, indeed, untruthful”.

The councils will publish a full report on the options and evidence for local government reorganisation on 23 December, and further consider their options in the New Year.

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