In a double U-turn this week, councillors of Purbeck District Council and East Dorset District Council, two of three authorities, which were opposed to council reorganisation in the county, have voted to withdraw their opposition.
In Purbeck councillors voted 19 to 5, with one abstention and in East Dorset the margin was narrower with 14 to 12 and one abstention. Both councils will now write to the Secretary of State to accept his ‘minded-to’ decision.
Previously, in January 2017, both councils voted to not support submission to the Secretary of State of a case to change local government in Dorset. Six other Dorset councils supported the submission and asked the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to implement a reorganisation by the formation of two unitary councils.
In November 2017, the Secretary of State announced he was “minded to implement the proposed reorganisation.”
He has invited representations until 8 January, after which if he reaffirms his decision to support local government reorganisation in Dorset, the new unitary councils will be formed on 1 April 2019.
If the merger plan goes ahead, it will reduce the number of councils from nine to two with the aim of saving £200m by 2019.
Councillor Gary Suttle, Leader of Purbeck District Council, said, “Our job is to provide services to our residents and maintain those services at a reasonable cost and level of efficiency.
“Councillors have raised concerns tonight [12 December], particularly about local representation. Residents deserve the best representation and this will only be achieved if we are part of the process. It is important we join this process so that the voice of our residents can be heard and we can do the very best for Purbeck.”
Although Purbeck District Council had previously not supported the proposal, it recently became a member of a Dorset Area Joint Committee, comprising Dorset councils, enabling it to participate in discussions about working together on the delivery of services.
Cllr Suttle said he had recently raised a number of concerns with the chairman of the Dorset Joint Committee, Cllr Rebecca Knox. The concerns covered harmonisation of council tax; the important role played by town and parish councils; safeguarding existing Local Plans; management of local development; and safeguarding local decision making. He said that Cllr Knox has given a number of assurances that these are being addressed.
Following East Dorset District Council’s full council meeting on 11 December, the leader of the council, Spencer Flower, said, “I am pleased that the majority of members recognise that following the Secretary of State’s ‘minded-to’ decision we have moved a step closer to local government reorganisation in Dorset. Our priority moving forward has to be getting the best for our residents and by accepting his decision we are showing we are committed to this.
“Our ongoing work with the Joint Committee has shown that a number of areas of concern that members raised are being addressed and I am confident that moving forward we will work together to achieve the best for the new council.”
Christchurch Council, the third council to originally oppose the reorganisation is holding a local poll to obtain the views of its residents, which closes tomorrow [14 December].
David McIntosh, chief executive of Christchurch and East Dorset Councils said, “Councillors are keen to gain a clear understanding of whether or not Christchurch residents support the current proposal which would see Christchurch become part of a single unitary with Bournemouth and Poole.
“It is important that everyone understands this poll is not legally binding as the final decision on whether or not local government reorganisation goes ahead will be made by the Secretary of State. However, the results of the local poll will form the basis of Christchurch’s representations and inform councillors’ decisions moving forward.”
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