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Javid minded to approve ‘strong and prosperous’ Dorset council merger

Dorset’s plans to create two new unitary authorities have won conditional government approval.

Secretary of state for communities and local government, Sajid Javid, has said that he is “minded to” implement the proposals, aimed at improving local government in Dorset.

The plans will see nine councils replaced by two unitary authorities, which the organisation Future Dorset says will mean fewer overheads, with savings of over £100m, and greater spending capacity on frontline services.

The new Rural Dorset will replace Dorset County, East Dorset, North Dorset, Purbeck, West Dorset and Weymouth & Portland councils.

Urban Dorset will replace Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch councils.

Speaking of his decision, Javid said: “I understand that all the councils in the area are already working together in joint implementation committees.

“However, further steps are needed to secure local consent, and I hope this announcement will facilitate the necessary discussions to conclude this.”

There will be a period for further proposals to be made to the secretary, and the final decision will be subject to parliamentary approval.

Javid added: “Once I have made my final decision on the Dorset proposal, I will also decide whether to implement, subject to Parliamentary approval, Dorset councils’ proposal for a combined authority to facilitate collaboration on certain matters between whatever councils are to be in place in Dorset.”

Six of the councils involved have issued a joint statement praising the decision: “Two councils will be more efficient, save money and protect public services. 

“Replacing Dorset’s nine councils with two new ones – structured around the established urban and rural geography of the county – will bring a strong and prosperous future Dorset, with two councils better able to work together in the best interests of Dorset’s residents and the long-term success of the county.

“They can begin to secure a sustainable future for the public services that people value and need, including and in particular, essential social care for our growing older population.

“These two councils will have greater influence nationally, better able to secure vital funding for things such as roads and housing. 

“This will make the area more attractive to businesses, help them to grow and thrive, meaning enhanced job prospects and better lives for local people.”

Christchurch Borough Council has long been opposed to the merger, and sits alongside East Dorset on a Joint Committee.

Councillor David Flagg, leader of Christchurch Borough Council, has responded to Javid’s announcement: “In light of the announcement from the Secretary of State that he is ‘minded to’ support the Future Dorset submission members will now need to look at our decision to hold a postal referendum having deferred the original ballot.

“We still intend to make representation to the Secretary of State and will now find out what options are available to us.”

Chief executive of Christchurch and East Dorset Councils, David McIntosh, said: “Members of both councils voted by a majority not to support the recommended option for structural change to local government in Dorset included in the Future Dorset submission made by the six supporting councils.”

However, Simon Edwards, director of the County Councils Network, has welcomed the decision: “We will now actively support Dorset through the transition to unitary status, drawing on the experience of our 10 existing unitary member councils.

“We also look forward to engaging both new councils, given they share the common characteristics that make up the CCN.”

He added: “There will now be an expectation that evidence-based decisions on other proposals will be reached, such as those put forward by Buckinghamshire County Council.

“Our independent research has shown there to be significant financial, economic and public service reform benefits for those willing to pursuing reform at scale.

“This bid was unique, having two neighbouring unitary authorities wishing to combine, alongside the consolidation of the two-tier system in the county”.

Ian Girling, Dorset Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s chief executive, explained why he believes the merger will make the area more attractive to businesses: “Businesses also clearly see the operating efficiencies that can be achieved with a streamlined approach to the structure and number of local authorities in the county.

The DCCI believes that two councils for Dorset will help to facilitate this and welcomes the Secretary of State’s announcement today.”

The deadline for further proposals is 8 January 2018.

East Suffolk merger

Dorset councils are not the first to receive Javid's approval, Suffolk Coastal and Waveney District Council in East Suffolk have also been told the secretary of state is "minded to" approve a locally-led proposal in the area.

The plan, billed as creating a new "super district council" was approved because of its strong local support, and because it is expected to improve council services.

Responding to the news, the Leaders of Suffolk Coastal and Waveney District Council, Cllr Ray Herring and Cllr Mark Bee, said in a joint statement: “This is great news for us and the people of east Suffolk. By creating a new, larger and more influential council, we will be able to continue to drive costs down, which maintaining services and investing in our local communities.

“We have a proud record of achieving success through innovative partnership working between Suffolk Coastal and Waveney District Council. We are glad that the secretary of state has recognised that the creation of this new ‘super district’ is the next logical step for us to take, if we are to keep on reducing costs while protecting frontline services.

“We need to evolve, if we are to successfully address the shared opportunities and challenges that both councils face, such as the significant reductions in central government funding for councils and the need for investment in growth and infrastructure projects, as well as providing more much-needed housing.”

Top image: Foreign Office

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