3 Councils Object To Cash-Saving Merger In Dorset

1 February 2017, 06:06

Three out of Dorset's nine councils have voted against cash-saving plans to merge them into just two large authorities.

Christchurch, Purbeck and East Dorset all opposed the idea in votes this week.

It means the proposal will be submitted to the government with the support of the other six.

All nine councils in Dorset have now considered a report and accompanying detailed package of evidence setting out a proposal to replace the county's nine councils with two new unitary authorities.

Six councils (Bournemouth, Dorset County, North Dorset, Poole, West Dorset, and Weymouth & Portland) have backed a change to local government structures in Dorset. The proposal is to create two new unitary councils based on the following existing local authority areas:

- Unitary A: Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole (including delivering the services currently provided by Dorset County Council in Christchurch).
- Unitary B: East Dorset, North Dorset, Purbeck, West Dorset, Weymouth and Portland (including the services currently provided by Dorset County Council in this area).

Matt Prosser, Chairman of the Dorset Chief Executives Group, said: 

"We are passionate about the Dorset of the future. 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, and we are proud of our respective Councils for making the right decision and backing change.

"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. We are resolved in our commitment to a county that is healthy, prosperous, vibrant and inclusive for generations to come. We now need to determine the next steps in achieving this opportunity of a lifetime."

Dorset's Council Leaders will meet on 8 February. At this meeting, those councils supporting change will agree the formal proposal to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Sajid Javid, asking him to use the powers available and replace Dorset's nine councils with two new unitary councils.

If the Secretary of State agrees and the change is approved by Parliament during 2017/18, decision-making bodies would be appointed to determine the structure, budget and service delivery models of each new Council. These would be made up of councillors from all existing local authorities. The new councils would 'go live' in April 2019, with full elections in May 2019.

Public consultation results showed backing for change to local government structures in Dorset in both the representative household survey and the open residents questionnaire, with the proposed boundaries also being the most favoured. 

Christchurch Borough Council does not back change to local government structure. At a meeting of Full Council held tonight councillors voted against a proposal to make a submission to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government requesting that Dorset's nine councils should be replaced by two new unitary councils.

Cllr Ray Nottage, Leader of the Council, Christchurch Borough Council, said:

"Members debated the evidence presented to us, including the clear public preference across the county for moving to two unitary councils, in particular an urban conurbation serving Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole with the other serving the rest of Dorset. However, members voted against the recommendations to support the case for change for local government in Dorset. Changes to the structure of local government in Dorset present an historic opportunity to transform our services at a time when budgets are being cut and our priority must be protecting frontline services.

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

At the Full Council meeting of Purbeck District Council held on 31 January 2017, District Councillors voted against a recommendation to make a submission to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government requesting that Dorset's nine councils should be replaced by two new unitary councils.

With 11 in favour and 11 against, the Chairman used his casting vote against the recommendation.

Leader of the Council, Councillor Gary Suttle, said: 

"I stated from the outset that this was to be the decision of each individual councillor. I have every respect for the outcome of the vote and will do my utmost to support the mandate that I have been given by my Council.

"It is clear this decision was not taken lightly by councillors."

The dates and decisions of each Council are as follows:

Date Meeting Decision
Tue 24/01/17 Borough of Poole - Full Council - Approved
Thu 26/01/17 Dorset County Council - Full Council - Approved
Thu 26/01/17 West Dorset District Council - Full Council - Approved
Thu 26/01/17 Weymouth and Portland Borough Council - Full Council - Approved
Fri 27/01/17 North Dorset District Council - Full Council - Approved
Mon 30/01/17 East Dorset District Council - Full Council - Rejected
Tue 31/01/17 Christchurch Borough Council - Full Council - Rejected
Tue 31/01/17 Bournemouth Borough Council - Full Council - Approved
Tue 31/01/17 Purbeck District Council - Full Council - Rejected

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