Following Parliament's approval to replace the current nine Dorset councils with two new Dorset councils, the new shadow Dorset councils have started work. Meanwhile Christchurch BC has been granted a judicial review of the process leading to this situation.
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.
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 the 'Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Unitary Authority'. (Christchurch is currently part of the county of Dorset.)
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 the "Dorset Council Unitary Authority". It would carry out all the functions of the previous two-tier councils in Dorset County, except for the existing Christchurch BC area.
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. Having achieved this, the Secretary of State is now ensuring some consequential orders concerning detailed matters are also approved by Parliament.
Shadow Dorset Council & Dorset Council UA
One result of Parliament's approval of the structural change orders was that it legally created a new 'Shadow Dorset Council'. This will now plan and implement the creation of new 'Dorset Council Unitary Authority'. 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 UA's area.
The Shadow Dorset Council met for the first time at the beginning of June 2018 in Dorchester and 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 the Executive Committee in the middle of June 2018.
The Dorset Council UA will start work on the 1st April 2019.
New councillor wards for the new council have already been proposed, but these will now be reviewed and possibly amended by the 'Local Government Boundary Commission for England' with their final announcement on this in October 2018. The elections of new councillors for the new council will be carried out in May 2019.
Christchurch BC's Application For A Judicial Review...
Sir Christopher Chope
However, in Christchurch, a Tory-led campaign, led by their Tory MP, Sir Christopher Chope, and the Tory Leader of Christchurch BC, Cllr David Flagg, against the reorganisation continues.
Cll David Flagg
They conducted a poll of 6% of their residents, counted in secret, to produce a much quoted, but obviously misleading, result.
They attempted to join up with Hampshire County Council but their initial advances were rejected.
Christchurch BC then threatened the newly appointed 'Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government' with legal action if he continued to proceed with his structural change orders through Parliament. The SofS responded by robustly rejecting their threats and adding they were absurd. And, in addition, he continued guiding his orders through Parliament.
However Sir Christopher Chope then ran a campaign to delay the progress of the orders though the various Parliamentary debates and procedures in both Houses of Parliament - requiring the attendance of all of his fellow Tory Dorset MPs at every twist and turn. Then on the day before Parliament was due to vote on the structural change orders, the borough council applied to the High Court for a judicial review of the reorganisation. But ignoring this, the House of Lords consented and the House of Commons voted overwhelming in favour of the structural change orders for Dorset.
On the 22nd June the High Court granted Christchurch BC the requested judicial review into the Dorset Councils reorganisation. The Honourable Mrs Justice Lambert ordered the case would be heard as soon as possible in the High Court, and in any case before the 27th July.
Tory-run 'Christchurch BC' and 'East Dorset DC', acting independently of the rest of Dorset, jumped the gun some years ago by combining their council staff together into a new organisation 'Christchurch and East Dorset Councils' (CEDC). This spans the two new Dorset Councils and the staff will obviously now have to be unpicked and re-allocated to the new councils, presumably at additional cost.
Additionally, two rival CEDC staff teams, sworn to secrecy, have had to be created for the judicial review. One team is allocated to East Dorset DC and the other team to Christchurch BC, working with separate legal advisors.
The BBC has ascertained that £200,000 has been set aside for the case by Christchurch BC. However, it is estimated the cost of the review, if the council lost the case, would be £800,000, leading to a concerned Christchurch residents group to approach the council's auditors, Grant Thornton, for a full investigation of the council.
The 'Shadow Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council' recently held their first meeting:
At the beginning of the meeting, the Tory Leader for Christchurch BC, Cllr David Flagg, was in attendance and he read out a prepared statement and then, with twelve of his Tory Christchurch councillor colleagues, walked out. Subsequently one of this group of Tory councillors made a formal complaint against the nine Tory councillors who remained in the meeting, to the Tory local party. The Chairman of this local party refuses to say what the complaint is but confirms he has passed it on to Tory central office.
One of the Tory Christchurch councillors staying in the meeting, Cllr Ray Nottage, was then voted in as the new Shadow Authority Chairman. He says he is merely carrying out the law, as approved by Parliament on 23rd May.
All in in all, along with BrExit indecision, impossible railway timetables, etc. etc. another typical Tory created shambolic mess!
Comment from Hugo Mieville, Parliamentary Spokesman
Hugo Mieville, the 'Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Spokesperson for North Dorset' said:
It will now be down to the 'Dorset Council Shadow Authority' to make sure that this transformation from the county/borough/district councils into the new 'Dorset Council Unitary Authority' is carried out efficiently, in time for its first elections next May. It is imperative that the voters in the new Dorset Council area can have confidence in the new Dorset Council UA right from the start.
Christchurch's Tory MP and its Tory-led Council have fought a losing battle, and they should now admit defeat and withdraw gracefully. This includes the withdrawal of their application for a judicial review of the previous Secretary of State's original decision on Dorset.