"The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities & Local Government" (SofS), Rt Hon Sajid Javid MP, announced on the 26th February that he agrees that the nine Dorset councils may reorganise themselves into two new Dorset councils, with effect from April 2019...
The proposal was 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".
So, the new "Dorset Area Unitary Authority" would carry out all the functions of the present Dorset County Council two-tier council structure involving district and borough councils (except for the existing Christchurch BC area).
The Story So Far...
The proposal 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.
New structural change orders have recently been placed, by the Dept. of Housing, Communities and Local Government, before the UK Parliament for their approval.
What Might Happen Next...
The orders are currently (April 2018) being contested by Sir Christopher Chope, MP for Christchurch, as unlawful and requiring a judicial review. In addition, it seems possible Christchurch BC may decide on further action to delay matters. All of this needs resolving...
If the orders should be approved by Parliament, it is then planned that the two new Dorset unitary authorities would start operating on the 1st April 2019 - with elections of new UA councillors being carried out in May 2019.
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..."