Government Expected To Back Dorset Councils Merger

8 November 2017, 08:11

The government looks likely to back plans to merge Dorset's nine councils into two larger ones.

Local Government Secretary Savid Javid says he's 'minded to' support the idea, which aims to save millions of pounds.

Christchurch, East Dorset and Purbeck have opposed it - and say they'll consider what action to take.

Mr Javid said:

'I am announcing today that, having carefully considered all the material and representations I have received, I am ‘minded to’ implement the locally-led proposal for improving local government in Dorset. This was submitted to me in February 2017. In the Dorset area, there are currently two small unitary councils (created in the 1990s) of Bournemouth and of Poole. They are surrounded by a two-tier structure of Dorset County Council and the district councils of Christchurch, East Dorset, North Dorset, Purbeck, West Dorset and Weymouth & Portland.

'I am satisfied on the basis of the information currently available to me that this proposal if implemented is likely to improve local government across the area, establishing two new councils with a credible geography, and which would command local support. The existing nine councils will be replaced by a single council for the areas of Bournemouth, Poole, and that part of the county of Dorset currently comprising the Borough of Christchurch, and by a single council for the remainder of the current county area.

'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.

'Before I take my final decision, there is now a period until 8 January 2018 during which those interested may make further representations to me, including that if the proposal is implemented it is with suggested modifications. It is also open to any council in the area to come forward with an alternative proposal. The final decision would also be subject to Parliamentary approval.

'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.'

A joint statement by:

Cllr Rebecca Knox, Dorset County
Cllr John Beesley, Bournemouth
Cllr Graham Carr-Jones, North Dorset
Cllr Janet Walton, Poole
Cllr Anthony Alford, West Dorset
Cllr Jeff Cant, Weymouth & Portland

"We have bold ambitions for our county, and strongly believe our plan will deliver a bright and successful future for all those who live here.

"We presented overwhelmingly strong evidence to the Secretary of State - evidence of public support, of backing by Dorset's business community and voluntary sector, and of immense benefits for the whole county. Our case for change showed that our plans will drive forward the economic prosperity of the county, helping people achieve a better quality of life.

"Two councils will be more efficient, save money and protect public services. 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.

"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.

"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.

"We are committed to working together and will take these discussions forward through the established Joint Committees, in which all nine councils are actively participating.

"There is now much for those Joint Committees to do. They will be responsible for all necessary plans to ensure that both new councils are created by and operational in April 2019.

"The scale of the task cannot be underestimated. But this immense effort we know will be far outweighed by the scale of the prize that awaits the people of Dorset - a county with a bright future that is healthier, more prosperous, vibrant and inclusive."

David McIntosh, Chief Executive, Christchurch and East Dorset Councils, said: 

"The Secretary of State has announced that he is 'minded to' support the Future Dorset submission for two unitary councils in Dorset. 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.

"Each council will now have to determine whether they wish to make representations to the Secretary of State in light of his initial decision.

"As both councils have taken up seats on each of the recently established Joint Committees, if reorganisation goes ahead they are in the best position to represent the interests of the residents and businesses of Christchurch and East Dorset."

Councillor Gary Suttle, Leader of Purbeck District Council, said:

“In January 2017, Purbeck District Council voted against the proposal and this position has not changed. Following today’s announcement by the Secretary of State, we will consider the implications for our residents and may make further representations during the consultation period.”