The way in which Dorset is run looks set to change with the news that the government is ‘minded’ to back plans to replace the existing system of nine councils with two unitary authorities.
The Future Dorset plans will mean the end of North Dorset District Council and the creation of a new unitary council covering most of rural Dorset that will include Gillingham, Shaftesbury and many other smaller towns in the county.
Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole boroughs will combine to form the other unitary authority.
These changes are due to come into effect in April 2019.
In a statement The Secretary of State for Local Communities and Local Government, The Rt Hon Sajid Javid MP, advised that he is ‘minded’ to support the Future Dorset proposal, though a final decision is not due until 8 January.
The news was welcomed by both the councils that proposed the move and seven of the county’s eight MPs.
In a joint statement, the leaders of the six councils who put forward the proposal said:
‘We have bold ambitions for our county, and strongly believe our plan will deliver a bright and successful future for all those who live here.
‘We presented overwhelmingly strong evidence to the Secretary of State – evidence of public support, of backing by Dorset’s business community and voluntary sector, and of immense benefits for the whole county. Our case for change showed that our plans will drive forward the economic prosperity of the county, helping people achieve a better quality of life.
‘Two councils will be more efficient, save money and protect public services. They can begin to secure a sustainable future for the public services that people value and need, including and in particular, essential social care for our growing older population.
‘Replacing Dorset’s nine councils with two new ones – structured around the established urban and rural geography of the county – will bring a strong and prosperous future Dorset, with two councils better able to work together in the best interests of Dorset’s residents and the long-term success of the county.
‘These two councils will have greater influence nationally, better able to secure vital funding for things such as roads and housing. This will make the area more attractive to businesses, help them to grow and thrive, meaning enhanced job prospects and better lives for local people.
“We are committed to working together and will take these discussions forward through the established Joint Committees, in which all nine councils are actively participating.
‘There is now much for those Joint Committees to do. They will be responsible for all necessary plans to ensure that both new councils are created by and operational in April 2019.
‘The scale of the task cannot be underestimated. But this immense effort we know will be far outweighed by the scale of the prize that awaits the people of Dorset – a county with a bright future that is healthier, more prosperous, vibrant and inclusive.’
Councillor Rebecca Knox, Dorset County Council
Councillor John Beesley, Bournemouth Borough Council
Councillor Graham Carr-Jones, North Dorset District Council
Councillor Janet Walton, Borough of Poole
Councillor Anthony Alford, West Dorset District Council
Councillor Jeff Cant, Weymouth and Portland Borough Council
Meanwhile seven of the eight local MPs also welcomed the news.
‘As Dorset Members of Parliament we warmly welcome the announcement made by the Secretary of State to support the reform of Dorset Local Government.
‘The announcement paves the way for significant reorganisation leading to major cost savings, thereby allowing the delivery of quality public services which our constituents require.
‘We will continue to work with our councils and communities to ensure the very best deal for Dorset.
‘Today represents major progress and puts Dorset in the vanguard of public sector reform.’
Rt Hon Sir Oliver Letwin MP
Rt Hon Tobias Ellwood MP
Sir Robert Syms MP
Conor Burns MP
Richard Drax MP
Michael Tomlinson MP
Simon Hoare MP
For more about Future Dorset visit their website here.