Plans For Cash-Saving Merger Of Dorset Councils

People are being asked about how to potentially change the shape of Dorset's councils.

An eight-week consultation's starting - with options from merging Bournemouth, Poole, Christchurch and East Dorset councils, to keeping things as they are.

The aim is to help all nine councils in the county deal with cuts in government funding.

The move has already been criticised, with Christchurch MP Chris Chope saying it's an "attack against democracy".

The public consultation, called Reshaping Your Councils, will run until 25 October 2016 and is being run independently by research company Opinion Research Services. Questionnaires will be sent to 20,000 households across Dorset. They will also be available online for anyone to complete, at a dedicated website, as well as being available in libraries. 

Residents will be able to talk to staff and councillors about the consultation at a series of over 40 public roadshows which will be held at locations across Bournemouth, Dorset and Poole, starting on 30 August at the Co-Op in Corfe Mullen between 10am and 2pm. Locations and dates of all roadshows are available on the website.

The options for consultation are:

1. Retaining all nine councils
(Bournemouth Borough Council, Christchurch Borough Council, Dorset County Council, East Dorset District Council, North Dorset District Council, Poole Borough Council, Purbeck Borough Council, West Dorset District Council, and Weymouth & Portland Borough Council).

2. Creating two new unitary councils for Dorset covering either:
2a. Large conurbation: Bournemouth, Poole, Christchurch and East Dorset, and the services currently delivered by Dorset County Council in this area; and
Small Dorset: North Dorset, Purbeck, West Dorset and Weymouth & Portland, and the services currently delivered by Dorset County Council in this area;
2b. Medium conurbation: Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch, and the services currently delivered by Dorset County Council in this area; and
Medium Dorset: East Dorset, North Dorset, Purbeck, West Dorset and Weymouth & Portland, and the services currently delivered by Dorset County Council in this area;
2c. Small conurbation: Bournemouth and Poole; and
Large Dorset: Christchurch, East Dorset, North Dorset, Purbeck, West Dorset and Weymouth & Portland, and the services currently delivered by Dorset County Council in this area.

Dorset's councils receive £142million less per year in government funding today than they did in 2010/11 and must have reduced costs by £200million per year by 2019/20. An independent financial assessment by Local Partnerships estimates that, even with these budget reductions by 2019/20, the nine councils must reduce costs by a further £30.4million by 2025, meaning that valued public services would suffer even greater cuts beyond 2019/20. This is why councils are now considering change.

Dorset councils commissioned Local Partnerships to look at the potential savings and costs of options for reorganising local government across the county. A two unitary council model would save a total of £108million over the first six years, based on the financial modelling conducted by Local Partnerships. The one-off transition costs to replace the existing nine councils with two unitary councils would be around £25million.

Cllr Anthony Alford, Vice-Chairman of the Dorset Leaders' Growth Board said: 

"Dorset's nine councils collectively spend £920million a year delivering services to our local residents. These Councils receive £142m per annum less Government funding today than they did in 2010/11. Over the next two years to April 2019 a further £52m will need to be saved to balance further funding cuts and service pressures. Therefore, by 2019/20, Dorset's councils will need to have reduced their annual spending by almost £200m since 2010/11.

"Despite all our hard work to make our councils more efficient and protect frontline services, the financial reality is that the current structure of local government is not sustainable. A further £30.4million less will be available to spend per annum between 2019 and 2025 and the harsh reality is that many services will have to change drastically, or even stop altogether if savings cannot be made.

"It is now essential that change is considered in order to minimise cuts to services beyond 2019/20, and ensure councils are sustainable for the future. We want to hear the views of local people before any decisions are made."

Tony Williams, Chief Executive of Bournemouth Borough Council and lead officer for the public consultation, said: 

"The Local Partnerships report is a significant milestone in our collective journey to reform local government throughout Dorset. It provides Dorset's nine councils with a firm financial basis to consult with residents, businesses and key stakeholders on the future of local government in the county." He added, "All councils are committed to an extensive public consultation and are keen that local people have their say. Every single resident in Dorset has the chance to have their say. By contacting 20,000 directly, and making the questionnaire available to any Dorset resident or interested party, we are confident that anyone who would like to have a say will have an opportunity to do so and to influence the final recommendation."

Following the consultation, all nine councils will then decide whether to present of a full business case for local government reform to the Government early next year, based on the results of the consultation, the independent financial analysis and a detailed case for change. If agreed, new councils would begin delivering services from April 2019, with elections in May 2019.

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