Residents and evidence back change to local government structures in Dorset

Public consultation results show clear backing for change to local government structures in Dorset.

Survey results

In the household survey, which is representative of the county’s population, almost three-quarters support reducing Dorset’s councils from nine to two, with over two-thirds of open questionnaire respondents also agreeing.

Qualitative research

Deliberative and qualitative research found that the business community, voluntary sectors, residents and town & parish councils also primarily backed change.

Of the options for the geographical make-up of any new council, there was majority support in both the household survey and open questionnaire for Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole to be served by one new council, with East Dorset, North Dorset, Purbeck, West Dorset & Weymouth & Portland areas served by a second new council (65% in the household survey and 53% in the open questionnaire).  This was also the strongest-supported option via qualitative research.

The case for change

Similarly, a detailed study undertaken by PriceWaterhouseCoopers looking at the Government’s five criteria for change cites a compelling case for local government reorganisation in Dorset.  It found evidence that proposals to restructure the county’s local government have key strengths in the areas covered by the criteria; that change would improve services, provide stronger leadership, increase efficiency, save money and be sustainable.

Now, in considering any change, each council will want to be sure that any proposal both has public support and also meets the government’s criteria for approval.

This is what the financial assessment, the public consultation and the case for change work is about – providing all councillors in Dorset with a package of robust and independent evidence they can consider when deciding whether or not to support change from nine councils to two, should this be recommended, and if so, what composition of the two new councils would be best for Dorset.

The nine councils in Dorset commissioned the public consultation from Opinion Research Services and the case for change from PriceWaterhouseCoopers, alongside a financial assessment of the potential savings achievable through reorganisation.  The financial review found that, change delivers £108m over the six years after the transition, allowing services to be protected in the future.

Councillors now need to consider all the evidence – the financial assessment, the case for change and the results of public consultation – to determine whether they support change.  This will be considered separately at each council during January.  Following that, and subject to agreement, a request will be made to the Secretary of State for Communities & Local Government, who will make the final decision.

Any new councils would come into being in April 2019.

Response to Reshaping Your Councils evidence package from Dorset’s nine Council Leaders

Cllr John Beesley, Bournemouth; Cllr Ray Nottage, Christchurch; Cllr Robert Gould, Dorset; Cllr Spencer Flower, East Dorset; Cllr Graham Carr-Jones, North Dorset; Cllr Janet Walton, Poole; Cllr Gary Suttle, Purbeck; Cllr Anthony Alford, West Dorset; Cllr Jeff Cant, Weymouth & Portland

“We are passionate about the Dorset of the future. We are collectively committed to doing the right thing for our residents and for the county – to protect services, to raise Dorset’s profile, to grow the economy, and to generate prosperity and an enhanced lifestyle for all those who live here.

“Receiving these reports today marks a significant point in our road to securing Dorset’s future, and is testament to our commitment to get this right.

“We remain wholly optimistic for Dorset. Whilst we are conscious that there are a range of opinions and welcome the opportunity to mitigate concerns, we are hugely encouraged to see that the people of this county strongly support change in order to position Dorset and protect services in the future, and that the evidence concludes that change is in Dorset’s best interests.

“We will be examining the evidence with enthusiasm and full scrutiny, together and in our own councils.  No decisions have been made about whether to proceed with change or what that change would look like. Only after detailed review of the evidence will a recommendation regarding the future of local government in Dorset be put to all councils for them to consider in January 2017.

“Our ambitions are clear.  To ensure Dorset has excellent public services. To deliver an influential profile that means access to funds for the benefit of all. To make Dorset a place of aspiration, competing on an international stage.  A county that is healthy, prosperous, vibrant and inclusive for future generations to come.  This is our commitment and ambition for our county.”

Statement from PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC)

Scott Bailey, PwC Partner, commented: “The Dorset councils commissioned this report to assess proposals to replace the nine current councils with two new unitary authorities in the county. While the current councils in Dorset are performing and working together well, the evidence suggests that they could achieve even more by reorganising and changing the way in which they operate and deliver services.”

Extracts from the PwC report:

“There is a compelling case for local government reorganisation in Dorset.”

“Our analysis, as well as that carried out by Local Partnerships, shows that maintaining the current structure of local government in Dorset would inhibit the ability of its councils to continue to meet the needs of its residents, communities and businesses.”

“The Dorset councils have bold ambitions, but the county needs a structure of local government that will help to achieve them.”