Work is taking place to ensure a new unitary authority called 'Dorset Council' will replace, on the 1st April 2019, the current two-tier council structure in the county of Dorset (except for Christchurch BC which will join Bournemouth and Poole at that time.)
The proposal for new councils was made in early 2017 by six Dorset councils: Bournemouth BC, Poole BC, Dorset CC, North Dorset DC, West Dorset DC and Weymouth & Portland BC. Subsequently, two more councils - East Dorset DC and Purbeck DC - also decided to support the proposal. Christchurch BC has only recently, very reluctantly, decided to support the proposals.
The proposal was that there would be one council for urban Dorset and one council for rural Dorset both serving around 4,000 residents:
The new urban Dorset unitary authority would consist of Bournemouth BC, Christchurch BC and Poole BC in a new unitary authority, called 'Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council'.
The new rural Dorset unitary authority would then consist of the remainder of the county of Dorset (namely Dorset CC, East Dorset DC, North Dorset DC, Purbeck DC, West Dorset DC and Weymouth & Portland BC) in a new unitary authority called 'Dorset Council'.
It was estimated that this simplification of organisational structures would save costs of £108m over six years.
The 'Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government' announced he agreed to the proposal in February 2018 and this then led to Parliament's approval on Wednesday 23rd May 2018.
Shadow Dorset Council
One result of Parliament's approval of the structural change orders was that it legally created a new 'Shadow Dorset Council'. This is planning and implementing the creation of the new 'Dorset Council'. The Shadow Dorset Council consists of all the 174 councillors, some double hatted, for the existing six county/borough/district councils that exist now in the future 'Dorset Council' area.
The 'Shadow Dorset Council' has appointed a chairman, deputy chairman, committees and interim statuary officers. The leader and deputy leader of the council were subsequently decided at the first meeting of its Executive Committee.
The 'Shadow Dorset Council' will complete its work and cease to exist at the end of 31st March 2019.
The 'Dorset Council' will start work on the 1st April 2019.
The 'Local Government Boundary Commission for England' (LGBCE) made its final recommendations on the number of councillors that should be elected to the new authority as well as the names and boundaries of the council's new wards. The aim of the review was to recommend ward boundaries that would result in each councillor representing approximately the same number of voters. Also the aim was to ensure that the ward boundaries reflected the interests and identities of local communities, as well as promoting effective local government.
The Dorset (Electoral Changes) Order 2018, after forty days of Parliamentary scrutiny, was made by the LGBCE on the 19th December 2018 to implement their recommendations for Dorset.
The elections of new councillors for the new council will now be carried out in May 2019.
Staff Recruitment Costs
Hugo Mieville, the 'North Dorset Liberal Democrats' Parliamentary Spokesperson', has commented on recent announcements on the cost of staff recruitment for the 'Dorset Council'. He said:
''It was bad enough that Conservative councillors on the 'Shadow Dorset Council' voted to spend £50,000 in a national search for a new Dorset Council Chief Executive - only to appoint an 'internal candidate'. Now they have agreed to spend a further £75,000 looking for the five next most senior positions. Yet, all the time, Conservatives are cutting money to care services for children and the elderly, road repairs and libraries. With a change in council should come a change in spending priorities."
More recently he added:
Next year the new unitary Dorset Council will start work, replacing Dorset County Council (DCC) and many district councils. And in November it was announced that it cost £50,000 in consultant fees to engage a chief executive of for the new council, a man who was already known to them! Then came news of a further half a million pounds redundancy pay-off to the DCC Chief Executive. Now comes the announcement that five senior posts at the new unitary Dorset Council have been appointed – at a combined annual salary of over £655,000!
This all represents a huge expenditure of council tax payers' money at a time when budgets for children's services, social care, roads and schools are all being constantly cut by the Conservative controlled DCC.
It also sheds an interesting light on North Dorset’s MP, Simon Hoare, recent words in Parliament:
'...with the home-grown proposals for the unitary councils of Dorset, we have been at the cutting edge of modernisation and delivering value for money and quality services.'
The new unitary Dorset Council has much to do prove him right, especially at a time when the 'harmonisation' of council tax in this new council area will see council tax payers living in North Dorset pay as much council tax as those living in West Dorset, Weymouth or Portland.
So, in summary, there seems a real risk that council taxes next year in North Dorset will be much higher than at present, for constantly cut and reduced council services - all run by a new bloated and expensive council bureaucracy.