Government approves unitary councils for Dorset

In an historic moment for public services in Dorset, the government has given the green light to plans to create two new unitary councils in Dorset. 

Local Government Minister, Sajid Javid, announced today that he will progress his initial ‘minded to’ decision to create two new unitary authorities in the county, replacing the existing nine councils. 

Each authority will deliver all local government services in their respective areas. One will cover Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole, and the other will serve the rest of the county. Subject to legislation, the new councils will come into existence in April 2019. 

This change will help protect local services, generate further economic growth, reduce costs, and provide more efficient, brand new councils structured around communities. 

The Secretary of State has reviewed all the evidence and representations received since making his ‘minded to implement’ announcement, and has now confirmed his decision that replacing nine councils with two unitary authorities is in the best interests of residents in Dorset. Parliamentary Orders will follow later this year and decision-making bodies will be appointed to determine the structure, budget and service delivery models of each new council. 

In a joint comment, the council leaders of Bournemouth (Cllr John Beesley), Dorset County (Cllr Rebecca Knox), North Dorset (Cllr Graham Carr-Jones), Poole (Cllr Janet Walton), West Dorset (Cllr Anthony Alford) and Weymouth & Portland (Cllr Jeff Cant) councils – who submitted the original proposal to the government, and East Dorset (Cllr Spencer Flower), and Purbeck (Cllr Gary Suttle) councils – who withdrew their opposition to the proposal earlier this year, said: 

“This is an historic day for public services in Dorset. Now we have received this decision, we can collectively focus our efforts, through the established Joint Committees, on creating two brand new councils.  This will be a challenge but we will work hard to ensure our communities receive the services they expect and deserve. 

"Our strong track record of partnership working in Dorset, whether through shared Chief Executives and management teams or joint service delivery, demonstrates our ability to put in place creative and innovative ways of working, and shows we will always put the provision & preservation of essential frontline public services and the interests of our residents first.  

"This is about so much more than the reorganisation of council structures in Dorset.  The opportunity to change the way we provide services will help us save money, give greater accountability to council tax payers and service users, and protect public services for future generations.” 

Cllr Rebecca Knox, Chair of the Dorset Area Joint Committee and Leader of Dorset County Council said: 

"On behalf of the Dorset Joint Committee I am delighted that we have been given this opportunity to create a new council for the heart of the county across Dorset. It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to remodel local services with our communities and partners to be responsive, innovative and above all else, efficient and effective. 

“As a Joint Committee we have already begun the work needed to take this huge step forward to providing better, joined-up services, that make sense for residents across the breadth of the county area. We have a strong financial case and will take this work forward making clear decisions at our meetings, supported by our task and finish groups. We are committed to building on our positive collective work to develop a thriving economy, support and encourage aspirations for our young people and deliver services that make a positive difference to people’s lives.

“We will work with our colleagues in Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole to make sure individuals who rely on our services, staff and services are transferred in a seamless and positive way.

“Local Government Reform offers an opportunity to move to shared and collective delivery, with a democratic mandate that can act quickly as we work even more closely with our communities and partners to make sure Dorset is a great place to live and work. The way forward for Dorset will focus on investing in our future, good education, a growing economy and good service delivery. It is what our staff strive to deliver, what our residents need, and why councillors carry out the work they do.”

Cllr Janet Walton, Chair of the Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Joint Committee and Leader of Borough of Poole said: 

“As Chair of the Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Joint Committee, I have been hugely impressed by the commitment of members of the Committee to making sure the new council is established and operating effectively from day one. 

“As a Committee with representatives from Bournemouth, Christchurch, Poole and Dorset County councils, we have made excellent progress since our first meeting in October last year.  We already have a number of Task & Finish Groups dedicated to undertaking the detailed work necessary in the key areas of council tax harmonisation, disaggregation, structural change orders, civic functions and electoral arrangements. 

“We have discussed openly the issues around council tax harmonisation, how the new council will work to protect services for those living in its area who currently receive care from Dorset County Council, and set out a commitment to protecting civic traditions.

“We do not underestimate the scale of the work involved and the challenge this presents.  Nowhere in the country has disbanded nine councils and created two new unitary authorities in the timescale that we now have.  However, we have a clear and detailed work programme to take us through from now to day one of the new council.  I have every confidence that, working together, we will make sure the new council is ready to deliver on the promises set out in the proposal approved by Sajid Javid today – to protect frontline services, to champion the area nationally and to improve the quality of life and access to opportunity for all those living in the area the new council will serve – the three towns of Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole.”

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