Plans to slim down local government in Dorset have taken a step closer with the launch of a public consultation on proposals for the creation of two new unitary authorities. The public consultation, called ‘Reshaping your Councils’, will end on 25th October.
Councillors believe their plans to merge the existing nine councils into two unitary authorities by 2019 will save money and provide residents with better public services. The changes required to create the two new authorities are estimated to cost £25 million.
Reform is needed because funding cuts imposed have left the councils with a lot less money to operate with. For example, this year Dorset councils received £142 million less than they received in 2010/11, and further funding cuts are expected in the future. Therefore, in order to protect the services the councils provide it makes sense to reduce administration costs and avoid duplication across Dorset where possible.
One of the main questions asked in the public consultation is: “To what extent do you agree or disagree that Dorset’s councils should focus on cutting out duplication and reduce administration costs wherever possible?” The questionnaire offers residents the chance to vote in favour of retaining the existing councils, or comment on how they would like the two new authorities to be structured. It is made clear in the accompanying information that if Dorset’s existing councils are not reconstituted this would lead to a £30 million black hole in their budgets. This would almost certainly lead to a reduction in council services, as well as forcing the councils to raise council tax. To avoid this the unitary option, which is expected to save £108 in the first six years, is heavily promoted in the information provided by the councils.
The questionnaire offers three different choices for the proposed devolution deal:
- Large conurbation (Bournemouth, Poole, Christchurch, and East Dorset), small Dorset (North Dorset, Purbeck, West Dorset and Weymouth & Portland).
- Medium conurbation (Bournemouth, Poole, Christchurch), medium Dorset (East Dorset, North Dorset, Purbeck, West Dorset and Weymouth & Portland).
- Small conurbation (Bournemouth and Poole), large dorset (Christchurch, East Dorset, North Dorset, Purbeck, West Dorset and Weymouth & Portland).
The councils have rejected the idea of creating one large Dorset-wide unitary authority Whilst this would have saved the most money, it was felt that the council would lack a sense of identity and would seem remote to residents.
After the end of the public consultation, the nine councils will consider the response from residents. If the councils wish to continue with the proposed restructuring then they will submit the chosen option to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government in February 2017. The Government will then consider the proposals put forward, and legislate for the creation of the new authorities, which will then be formed on an interim basis in 2018. The new councils would take responsibility for delivering services from April 2019, and council elections would then follow in May 2019.