A decision is awaited from "The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities & Local Government" (SofS) to agree to a proposal to reorganise all nine Dorset councils into two new Dorset councils.
Story So Far...
The proposal was made in early 2017 in a document called Future Dorset prepared by six Dorset councils: Bournemouth BC, Dorset CC, North Dorset DC, Poole BC, West Dorset DC and Weymouth & Portland BC.
The plan proposes that, instead of the current nine Dorset councils, there would be only two - one for urban Dorset and one for rural Dorset.
The new urban Dorset unitary authority would consist of Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch 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 in a new unitary authority called the "Dorset Area Unitary Authority".
Three Tory-led Dorset councils were originally opposed to these proposals: East Dorset DC, Purbeck DC and Christchurch BC.
The SofS indicated on the 7th November 2017, that he was minded to agree to the proposed plan and he would accept final representations on it up until 8th January. Following this, both East Dorset DC (on the 11th December) and Purbeck DC (on the 12th December) made U-turns and decided to support 'Future Dorset'.
This left Tory-led Christchurch BC still against the 'Future Dorset' proposal. In December 2017, this council carried out some form of town poll, seemingly involving some rather dubious practices by their Tory MP and the Chief Executive, according to their local newspaper and the Leader of Bournemouth BC (see below). The Leader of Christchurch BC then wrote to the SofS, on the 4th January, objecting to the proposal. A link to a copy of his letter follows:
The leaders of various Dorset councils then followed-up by writing to the SofS supporting the proposal. Here are links for some of them:
It is understood the SofS will now announce his decision on 'Future Dorset' in early February. If he approves the proposal, the next stage would be for the UK Parliament to also approve it. It is then planned that the two new Dorset unitary authorities would start operating in April 2019, with elections of new UA councillors being carried out in May 2019.
For more details of the proposals for the future organisation of Dorset's local government, see the 'Future Dorset' web-site:
Dorset Area Joint Committee
All the existing councils in the proposed Dorset Area are regularly meeting to plan their implementation of their new unitary authority. Their joint committee is called the Dorset Area Joint Committee, and for more details of this committee's activities see the following web-site:
Dorset Liberal Democrats' Reaction
Hugo Mieville, the North Dorset Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Spokesman, said:
"I welcome the clarity that the Secretary of State's announcement has finally given.
However, the proposed new unitary authorities for Dorset will only be truly welcome if they bring both economies of scale and proper democratic local accountability.
In principle, the proposed amalgamation of Dorset council administrations and services into new unitary authorities ought to save costs. But, in practice, great care would need to be taken to ensure that their centralised authority would not then become too remote from the centres of population which they are intended to serve.
Dorchester may seem close to Wimborne, Blandford and Swanage. But it will seem as far away as London (or Brussels!) if attention is not given to the creation of local 'hubs', and the establishment of a sufficient number of councillors for each area.
The Liberal Democrats were the driving force behind the new neighbourhood plans, and are absolutely committed to local accountability.
There are also real concerns about the likely disparities in local rateable income between the two proposed authorities. Not helped by the continued swingeing cuts in government support for all UK local councils.
In short the devil will, as usual, be in the detail..."