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Dorset residents support plans to reduce council numbers

Dorset residents have given their “clear backing” for the county’s proposals to reduce its number of local councils, although there remains criticism that not enough people were consulted.

The results of a public consultation led by Dorset’s nine local councils – Reshaping your Councils, which ran from 30 August to 25 October – found that almost three-quarters of 17,000 respondents supported reducing the county’s nine councils down to two unitary authorities.

The council’s research found that there was majority support for Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole to be served by one new authority with East Dorset, North Dorset, Purbeck, West Dorset & Weymouth & Portland areas to be served by a second new council.

Dorset’s nine council leaders welcomed the results, saying in a statement: “Whilst we are conscious that there are a range of opinions and welcome the opportunity to mitigate concerns, we are hugely encouraged to see that the people of this county strongly support change in order to position Dorset and protect services in the future, and that the evidence concludes that change is in Dorset’s best interests.

“Receiving these reports today marks a significant point in our road to securing Dorset’s future, and is testament to our commitment to get this right.”

A detailed study undertaken by PwC looking at whether the reorganisation would meet the government’s five criteria for change – improved services, stronger leadership, increased efficiency, saved money and sustainability – also presented a compelling case for the restructure.

A financial review found that change to the council structure would deliver £108m of savings over the six years after the transition, enabling services to be safeguarded in future. The councils are currently facing a combined shortfall of £30m between 2019 and 2025.

Scott Bailey, partner of PwC, commented: “While the current councils in Dorset are performing and working together well, the evidence suggests that they could achieve even more by reorganising and changing the way in which they operate and deliver services.”

Each of Dorset’s nine councils will now consider all the evidence to determine whether they support the proposed restructure, with a recommendation to be put to the local authorities and each council set to make their individual decisions in the New Year.

Subject to agreement, they will then make a request to the local government secretary Sajid Javid who will make the final decision, with any new council due to come into being in April 2019.

The consultation has not been unanimously received, with local politicians and MPs criticising it for being ‘undemocratic’ and ‘biased’.

Dorset’s Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Martyn Underhill warned that it would only reach one in 10 people, and recommended that a referendum would be more democratic. He also said that the option of a single Dorset unitary authority should have been made available.

Meanwhile, in the House of Commons, two Dorset MPs disagreed over the consultation, with the MP for Christchurch Christopher Chope calling it “inadequate, biased and, indeed untruthful” for concealing the fact that the change would be funded by a rise to council tax.

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Colin Bungey   08/12/2016 at 14:43

There must be some concern for residents in that only 2.85% of the Dorset population some 20,000 were selected to received consultation documents and not all of those were returned so of a population of 750,000 so only just over 1% of the population were involved, hardly a democratic result. Those residents that took the time and trouble to reply on line and go to Libraries and get hard copies and fill them in are to be disregarded by Councillors again hardly democratic. In the Ancient Borough of Christchurch that means that out of a population of 50,000 only 263 replies supported the option of becoming part of Bournemouth whilst nearly 800 independent replies supported no change they according to the Council Leader will not be considered. This adds fuel to the argument that has long been going on in Christchurch that this was all decided before any consultation and the documentation was biased to give the answer that certain people wanted.

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