Frequently-asked questions

Background

  1. Why are we now considering change?
  2. Is this Bournemouth trying to take over Poole, Christchurch and East Dorset? Or Dorset County Council trying to take over all the districts and boroughs?
  3. Why aren’t we holding a referendum?
  4. Have any decisions been made on the options?
  5. Why didn’t the questionnaire include a specific option for no change?
  6. Why didn’t the questionnaire include a specific option for a whole Dorset unitary?
  7. What happens now the consultation has ended?
  8. What if there are polarised views from residents in different areas?
  9. Isn’t it true that Christchurch Borough Council and East Dorset District Council could both survive financially without becoming part of a new unitary? Why the need for change?
  10. What if the public don’t want change?
  11. There are so many aspects of the evidence. Which are the most important?
  12. How do you know if the results are representative of Dorset and each local authority area?
  13. How will the results be broken down and presented?
  14. What happens if more than one council votes against the proposals?
  15. What happens if ‘no change’ is voted for by councillors?
  16. What happens if a judicial review application is lodged?
  17. How will all councillors be involved in the final decision?
  18. What is the rationale for ruling out a whole Dorset unitary?
  19. Some people have suggested that the figures lead people to a certain conclusion – to support 2b.
  20. What impact would town and parish councils have on the council tax harmonisation projections?
  21. How will councils deal with any petitions presented after the closure of the consultation but before the council decision?
  22. How is the Leaders’ meeting behind closed doors on 15 December acceptable in democratic and constitutional terms?
  23. Wouldn’t two new unitary councils be remote and unable to keep in touch with localities or support local parish and town councils?
  24. Will town and parish councils take on more decision-making and service delivery?
  25. How much would it cost to put these changes in place? And how much would it save?
  26. People are worried that their town or village will lose its identity under these proposals. What reassurance can be given that this is not the case?
  27. How are all councillors being involved in the final decision?
  28. Will Christchurch residents have to pay more than under a two-tier arrangement?
  29. Will Poole residents have to pay more council tax under these proposals?
  30. Will DCC’s election go ahead next spring?
  31. Why can’t the Dorset Combined Authority that is being set up undertake strategic planning of local government services for the county, in particular Adults and Children’s social care?
  32. What happens if all councils don’t agree to change and on a single option by the end of January?
  33. If new unitary councils are created, would they each have one planning board to deal with applications? And does this mean that more decision-making will be carried out by officers under delegated powers, with less discussed at committee?
  34. Some Poole and Christchurch residents have expressed concern that their towns will bear the brunt of new building work if merged with Bournemouth. How will this unified planning board, presumably based in Bournemouth, ensure that these areas and their residents are fairly represented and their views heard?

The consultation itself

35. How did the public have their say on the options?
36. Are elected Councillors able to express an opinion on the options?
37. How did you decide who would receive a hard copy questionnaire and is 20,000 enough?
38. Who was involved in preparing the information document?
39. Why were the details on town and parish councils not included?
40. Was the consultation period long enough?
41. Did the questionnaire include a specific question for no change?
42. What information can you give us about the statistical validity of the consultation?
43. What methods were used in the consultation programme?
44. What was the sampling for the household survey?
45. Why wasn’t every household surveyed?
46. Were consultees given adequate time and information?


Background

1. Why are we now considering change?

Dorset’s nine councils currently spend £920 million a year delivering services (based on 2015/2016). This year the amount of money the Government passed on to Dorset’s councils to run services was £51.9 million. That’s £142 million less received in Government funding today than in 2010/11.

Despite your councils becoming more efficient, the reality is that they have less money to spend on services. The current forecast is that, from 1 April 2017 to 31 March 2025, Dorset’s councils overall need to save an additional £82.3 million (see diagram below). Of this amount, £51.9 million will need to be found before any new councils are formed in 2019/2020, leaving £30.4 million to be found between 2019 and 2025 if proposals are approved.

Many services will have to change drastically, or even stop altogether if savings cannot be made – By 2019/20, Dorset’s councils will have made savings over 10 years of almost £200 million. With at least another £30 million needed by 2024/2025, it is now essential that change is considered in order to minimise cuts to services beyond 2019/2020, and ensure councils are sustainable for the future. Whilst £30 million may seem a relatively small proportion of overall budgets, it is this on top of the £200 million already saved that makes considering change a priority now.

2. Is this Bournemouth trying to take over Poole, Christchurch and East Dorset? Or Dorset County Council trying to take over all the districts and boroughs?

No. These proposals would create completely new councils, based around whatever boundaries are eventually agreed. This means that none of the current nine local authorities in Dorset would exist beyond 2019, as two new unitary councils would replace them.

3. Why aren’t we holding a referendum?

Referendums have a place, however the purpose of this public consultation is not to seek a simple yes / no response to the proposals. There are a number of options, each with complex features and implications for individual councils, local services and council tax bills. It is important we understand the public’s views on these options – their concerns and the things they support – before any decision is taken to make a recommendation to Government.

The consultation results will help inform any decision by councillors to make a recommendation only to the Government.  It is the Government who will make the final decision. Therefore, we think it is wrong to hold a referendum – at an estimated  cost of around £1.2 million to local taxpayers – on a matter which Dorset councils cannot ultimately decide.

It is important that everyone in Dorset had the opportunity to have their say on the options through this consultation, either online or by completing a paper-based questionnaire, available at all public libraries.

4. Have any decisions been made on the options?

No decisions have been made. Later this year, Leaders of all nine Dorset councils will consider the results of the public consultation along with other evidence, including an independent financial assessment of the councils’ budgets up to 2025.

Should the Leaders then agree to recommend any of the consultation options, councillors of each of the nine Dorset council would need to make a decision on the recommendation in January / February 2017. If this is decided, councils will work together on a final proposal to put to the Government in early 2017.

5. Why didn’t the questionnaire include a specific option for no change?

Of the options presented, one was clearly for ‘no change’.  Whilst change would involve replacing nine councils with two, no change would not.  Respondents were asked about their support or opposition to change and so their support or opposition to option 1.

6. Why didn’t the questionnaire include a specific option for a whole Dorset unitary?

The consultation document clearly set out why a single council for the whole county was not being consulted upon. These include a lack of established identity for the whole area, significant difference in service needs and delivery for rural and urban populations, and the size of population served.

7. What happens now the consultation has ended?

ORS, the independent experts engaged to run the consultation, will assess and analyse the results and a report will be available in December. At the same time, PriceWaterhouseCoopers are working on a case for change, which assesses each option against the Government’s five ‘statutory tests’. This will also be available in December, and councillors will consider these two pieces of evidence alongside the Local Partnerships financial report that has already been published.

8. What if there are polarised views from residents in different areas?

It is important that all views are heard and we wanted as many local people as possible to have their say. However, one solution will not suit every circumstance, but will be what is considered best for Dorset overall. The consultation results will be considered alongside other evidence by elected councillors before being submitted to Government.

9. Isn’t it true that Christchurch Borough Council and East Dorset District Council could both survive financially without becoming part of a new unitary? Why the need for change?

Services are delivered to Christchurch and East Dorset residents by both the district/borough council and the county council.  The district/borough councils are experiencing less financial pressure compared to the county council, but, in order to protect the important frontline services delivered by the county council – which received the majority of council tax paid by east Dorset and Christchurch residents – there is a need to review how all local government services are delivered – for the good of all residents. The financial analysis undertaken independently by Local Partnerships (Local Partnerships summary of potential options for the reconfiguration of local authorities in Dorset and Dorset Councils Local Partnerships independent financial analysis), based on figures agreed by all nine councils, shows that, by 2025, Dorset County Council – which is responsible for the largest service budgets for residents of Christchurch and East Dorset, has an £11million shortfall by 2025.  These options are therefore about protecting public services for local people.

10. What if the public don’t want change?

We are listening to local people and it is important that all views are heard. The Government will want to see a future solution that works for all of Dorset, and will want to see that the views of residents have been sought in arriving at any eventual solution. At the end of the process, each council in Dorset will consider the results of the consultation along with a business case for change and the financial information (read the Dorset Councils Local Partnerships independent financial analysis) – those three elements will inform the decision-making process.

11. There are so many aspects of the evidence. Which are the most important?

Councillors will need to determine themselves which elements of the evidence they place greatest emphasis on;

          • the case for change (which examines the proposals in the context of the government’s five ‘statutory tests’ to determine whether change from nine to two councils would improve value for money and efficiency, deliver significant cost savings, and show that the cost of change can be recovered over a fixed period, improve services for local residents, provide stronger and more accountable leadership, and be sustainable in the medium–long term.)
          • the consultation results (which provide the views of the public and stakeholders following a comprehensive qualitative and quantitative consultation process, conducted in line with government guidance and best practice principles). Within the consultation results, the overall household survey sample of 4,258 responses will provide survey estimates that will be accurate to around ±2 percentage points for the entire Dorset population. The Open Consultation Questionnaire provides considerable information about the views of particular groups and individuals at very local levels, but it is less appropriate as a guide to overall opinion because the profile of people that respond will not match the overall Dorset population in terms of age, employment status etc.; or
          • the financial analysis – which sets out the cost of implementing change and the predicted savings.

But it is important that all the evidence is considered together.

12. How do you know if the results are representative of Dorset and each local authority area?

Where a population is large, as in the case of Dorset (around 750,000 residents), it is normal to carry out a survey to accurately estimate what the result would be if the views of the entire population had been asked. Where a survey is based on a sample that has been selected at random and there is a chance that anyone in the population could be chosen to take part, survey estimates can be certified as statistically accurate to within a specific tolerance.

For example, we can be 95% confident that views based on responses from a random sample of 384 residents would reflect the views of the entire population to within ±5 percentage points. What this means is that, 19 times out of 20 the survey estimate will be no more than 5 percentage points away from the result had the question been asked of everyone in the population.

The overall household survey sample of 4,258 responses will provide survey estimates that will be accurate to around ±2 percentage points for the entire Dorset population. The survey estimates are also sufficiently accurate to identify with statistical confidence the option with most support in each local authority area.  The level of accuracy depends on the split in opinion for each question, the number of responses received and the extent of statistical weighting needed to compensate for different response rates for different types of households.

The specific accuracy of survey estimates for key questions will be reported openly in the ORS report of findings.   Some findings will be particularly highlighted, for example where they may be:

  • Relevant to and/or having particular implications for one or more of the options;
  • Well-evidenced – for example, submissions from stakeholders or organisations, businesses, concerned people or local groups that point to specific evidence to support their perspective;
  • Deliberative – based on thoughtful discussion in public meetings and other informed dialogue;
  • Representative of the general population or specific localities;
  • Focused on views from under-represented people or equality groups; and
  • ‘Novel’ – in the sense of raising ‘different’ issues to those being repeated by a number of respondents or arising from a different perspective.

ORS will identify where strength of feeling may be particularly intense while recognising that interpreting consultation is not simply a matter of ‘counting heads’.

13. How will the results be broken down and presented?

The ORS report will include overall results for the whole of Dorset, compare findings from the household survey and open consultation questionnaire, feature breakdowns of results from each council area and present the feedback received from stakeholders via all the different quantitative and qualitative consultation activities.

14. What happens if more than one council votes against the proposals?

All Dorset’s councils are hoping to agree a recommendation. However, should not all councils agree, the Cities and Local Government Devolution Act 2016 enables the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to impose change on an area, where he or she believes that a proposal is beneficial to that area.  So, should not all councils agree, those that do may consider presenting a case for change to the Secretary of State if they believe that the evidence is strong enough to suggest that this is the right thing for the whole of the county.

15. What happens if ‘no change’ is voted for by councillors?

If the recommendation from all councils is no change, then the reorganisation plans will be concluded and savings will have to be found differently, most likely by further and deeper cuts to frontline services.

16. What happens if a judicial review application is lodged?

We are very confident that the consultation has been undertaken entirely compliant with best practice principles and would not expect any JR application to proceed beyond the first stage.

17. How will all councillors be involved in the final decision?

Every councillor will be able to publicly scrutinise the package of evidence – the case for change, the consultation results and the financial analysis – and form a view about the best way forward for their area and for the county. The final decision will be made by each council, independently and separately of every other council. Only when the report had been considered and debated by each council at Full Council meetings in January will the nine councils know whether consensus has been achieved.

18. What is the rationale for ruling out a whole Dorset unitary?

The consultation document set out why a single council for the whole county was not being consulted upon.  This includes a lack of established identity for the whole area, significant difference in service needs and delivery for rural and urban populations, and the size of population served.

19. Some people have suggested that the figures lead people to a certain conclusion – to support 2b.

The information is based on impartial analysis by independent company Local Partnerships, which is part owned by HM Treasury.  The information document presents key features of each option (with no conclusion as to whether these are positive or negative), including expected savings, population sizes, and difficulty to implement.   Each respondent will have made up their own minds about the issues that are important to them when responding and filled in their survey on that basis.

20. What impact would town and parish council figures have on the council tax harmonisation projections?

The financial modelling includes the potential establishment of new town or parish councils in Christchurch and Weymouth. However, this would be a matter for local areas to determine, and local people will be able to have a say on whether they wish to have a town council for which they would need to pay a precept.  If a Town Council is created in Christchurch, residents will not see a new additional charge for this over and above the amount they are already paying to the Borough and County Council.

The starting point of council tax for the harmonisation of any new unitary authority would be net of any town council precept if one is formed, i.e. it would not include a town or parish council precept. Once council tax has been harmonised – probably a 20-year process – Christchurch residents would be paying the same for their unitary services as Poole and Bournemouth residents plus a Town Council precept if a town council is set up. There does not, however, have to be a town council in Christchurch, whether there is a case and support for one needs to be fully reviewed.

Therefore, the honest position regarding potential council tax rises – assuming a town council for Christchurch and Weymouth – is reflected, but the formation of these might not be progressed and will be subject to local discussion.

21. How will councils deal with any petitions presented after the closure of the consultation but before the council decision?

Petitions will be received and processed in the usual way, according to each council’s constitution.

22. How is the Leaders’ meeting behind closed doors on 15 December acceptable in democratic and constitutional terms?

The aim of the meeting on 15th December is for the Council Leaders to agree a recommendation for inclusion in a report that will then be considered independently by each council, in public, at meetings throughout January. Leaders are only making a recommendation, they are not deciding the position of their council. It is necessary for the Leaders to make this recommendation collectively, as it affects all nine councils equally.

23. Wouldn’t two new unitary councils be remote and unable to keep in touch with localities or support local parish and town councils?

The new councils would still have offices and points of customer contact. Everyone would still have a local councillor to represent them, who would be a single point of contact and one voice for their part of Dorset.  When you want to contact your councillor – there will be just one – with clear accountability.

24. Will town and parish councils take on more decision-making and service delivery?

In establishing any new service delivery models, the new councils would give consideration to what will work well in local areas. They would engage with town and parish councils to establish where it is beneficial and realistically achievable to devolve services and options around contracts for delivery of local services.

25. How much would it cost to put these changes in place? And how much would it save?

It is estimated that it will cost a one-off £25 million to make this change, but this will bring £106 million of savings in the first six years. Independent accountants support the view that new councils could deliver the same or better services for £18 million less each year. There would be obvious economies too – between them the new unitary councils would have significantly fewer councillors than the current total of 330 borough, district, unitary and county councillors, and the present six chief executives and six management teams would be reduced to two. Read the Dorset Councils Local Partnerships independent financial analysis.

26. People are worried that their town or village will lose its identity under these proposals. What reassurance can be given that this is not the case?

This is about local government being more efficient and effective; we very much appreciate people have a great sense of pride in their areas and there is no reason that this should feel threatened or undermined by and changes in how services are delivered. In fact for those areas where Town Councils do not exist, the proposals account for these to be established specifically to ensure that historic and civic functions can continue effectively and enthusiastically. Bridport will still be Bridport, Poole will still be Poole, the history and culture of these areas is understandably cherished; everyone involved would actively seek to preserve and protect these elements for the future.

27. How are all councillors being involved in the final decision?

All councillors will be presented with the consultation report, financial information and the case for change.  During January, every council will scrutinise the recommendations at public meetings before a final recommendations is made by each council’s political administration for agreement or non-agreement at full council, at which all councillors vote.  All these meetings will be open to the public and all councillors are able to attend.

28. Will Christchurch residents have to pay more than under a two-tier arrangement?

By 2020, local councils will receive no government ‘revenue support grant’ at all. Should change go ahead, Christchurch and East Dorset residents, who receive services from both the district/borough council and the county council, would see their council tax rise by a lower percentage under options 2a and 2b than they would under option 1 (retaining all nine councils) or 2c.

29. Will Poole residents have to pay more council tax under these proposals?

By 2020, local councils will receive no government ‘revenue support grant’ at all. Poole residents currently pay the lowest council tax in Dorset.

Poole residents are likely to have to pay more council tax under the “no change” option as well as the other three options. This is for two main reasons. First, because the government is reducing all its financial support for services in Poole to zero in 2019. It was £35 million a year in 2010. The second reason is that the demand for the council’s services is increasing every year. This is driven by our ageing population as an ever-growing number of people are requesting support from the council. This is increasing the costs that the council has to bear.

In view of all this the government expects councils to put council tax up by the maximum amount permitted. For Poole this is 3.99% each year. This includes a 2% social care precept, funds which must be spent on adult social care services. So, whilst council tax is likely to raise under all the options, it is expected that taxpayers would receive better value for money with the new unitary council options because they would spend less on management, overheads and support costs. By the same token they would spend a higher proportion on front-line services than the “no change” option.

30. Will DCC’s election go ahead next spring?

At the county council meeting in July members expressed a preference for the spring 2017 elections not to go ahead, on the basis that if unitary councils were to be formed in 2019, we would be spending an estimated £800,000 in 2017 on an election to an organisation that would not exist two years later. However a final decision about whether or not to hold elections would be made by Government ministers. County councillors asked officers to explore the options and we are in contact with the Department for Communities and Local Government. A recommendation about the election will be put to the county council at its meeting in November.

31. Why can’t the Dorset Combined Authority that is being set up undertake strategic planning of local government services for the county, in particular Adults and Children’s social care?

The new Combined Authority that is due to come into existence in 2017 will lead only on statutory infrastructure strategies and a county-wide non-statutory inward investment approach.  The delivery of these is largely undertaken by others including local councils.  The Combined Authority will work closely with the business-led Local Enterprise Partnership, which supports change and the creation of new Council structures to stimulate growth, but it will not be a mechanism for delivering or specifying local government services.

Whilst in theory it could evolve to have additional responsibility for adults and social care in time, it should be noted that the only Combined Authority that has assumed responsibility for health matters is in Manchester. This was only possible because of the established Metropolitan – Unitary structure.  Such a solution for adults and children’s services would have been unlikely if it included a two tier system with all the complexities that that brings, including not least six lower-tier councils voting on matters for which they have no responsibility.

32. What happens if all councils don’t agree to change and on a single option by the end of January?

If there is not unanimous agreement then those who do agree will have to decide whether to go ahead and make a case for change to the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State does have the power to impose change if he thinks there is a strong case and benefits.

33. If new unitary councils are created, would they each have one planning board to deal with applications? And does this mean that more decision-making will be carried out by officers under delegated powers, with less discussed at committee?

It will take some time to determine the detail of how any new councils would be set up; first of all we need a decision from the councils, then, if they go ahead, a decision from the Secretary of State; only after that can the implementation arrangements begin to be made.

One benefit that is sought from change is to deliver services more efficiently, so it is reasonable to assume that there would be one planning department per local authority. It would be wrong though to make any assumptions about the level of delegated powers to officers. These and the democratic arrangements for decision making including for statutory committees like Planning, would be established by an implementation executive, if change goes ahead.

34. Some Poole and Christchurch residents have expressed concern that their towns will bear the brunt of new building work if merged with Bournemouth. How will this unified planning board, presumably based in Bournemouth, ensure that these areas and their residents are fairly represented and their views heard?

The evidence documents make an assumption of two head offices and seven satellites across Dorset so it wouldn’t be right to assume that all services are delivered from and decisions made at one place.

If change happens, it is not a merger of existing councils – it’s the creation of a brand new council whose responsibility is to its whole area and to make decisions for the benefits of that whole area. This includes land use and ensuring it is appropriate.

The consultation itself

35. How did the public have their say on the options?

An eight-week public consultation on the proposals ran from until 25 October 2016. The consultation was conducted by an independent research company, ORS. Dorset residents, local businesses, town and parish councils and other organisations were asked to share their views on the proposals by completing a questionnaire, either online or on paper.

Residents’ survey
A sample of local residents in each council area were also randomly selected by ORS and asked to complete a questionnaire.

Meetings
Your councils talked to local stakeholders, from businesses and voluntary organisations to parish and town councils, to answer any questions they have, and so they could find out how the proposals would affect them.

Roadshows
In early autumn your councils held a series of 42 roadshows across Bournemouth, Dorset and Poole for local people to come and find out more.

36. Were elected Councillors able to express an opinion on the options?

Absolutely. The consultation was an important part of the decision-making process and all of the options are possible outcomes.

Councillors may have a personal preference on which option they feel is best but it is important they hear and consider seriously the views of our local residents and other stakeholders. Your views will inform any decision the nine councils may make next year on a possible recommendation to the Government.

37. How did you decide who would receive a hard copy questionnaire and is 20,000 enough?

The consultation is being managed by an independent company, Opinion Research Services (ORS), on behalf of all nine Dorset councils.

A Household Survey questionnaire is being sent to a random sample of 20,000 addresses drawn from the Postal Address File (an index of all residential addresses) for the whole of Dorset. This number is recommended as sufficient by ORS to yield enough responses across all demographics to be considered representative of the Dorset population as a whole. The methodology and weightings applied during analysis by ORS are designed to ensure the views received are representative of the population aged 16 and over in each of the eight local authority areas across the whole of Dorset (including Bournemouth and Poole). Additionally, anyone who wishes to have a say can do so online.

38. Who was involved in preparing the information document?

The nine councils have worked hard, with professional advice from independent consultation company ORS, to arrive at a document that is factual and understandable. The document was prepared by Officers, with support from ORS, and given final approval collectively by Council Leaders.  Officer involvement also included statutory roles of ‘Section 151 Officers’ (to ensure financial accuracy) and Monitoring Officers (to ensure legal compliance).  Our aim is to give local people the information they need to understand the situation and the options, so they can complete the consultation questionnaire in an informed way. In addition, the full financial assessment undertaken independently by Local Partnerships is also available – Dorset Councils Local Partnerships independent financial analysis. This has formed the basis of the costs and savings within the consultation document.

39. Why were the details on town and parish councils not included?

The aim of the consultation is to obtain views on changing from nine principal councils to two.  It was not a consultation on whether new town councils should be established.

However, in order to acknowledge the fact that some councils had expressed a wish for town councils to be considered, the report of Local Partnerships does recognise the impact this may have. This information is included within the financial modelling information contained within the consultation document.

40. Was the consultation period long enough?

Government guidance on consultation specified in the ‘Gunning Principles’ states consultation should take place when proposals are still at a formative stage, giving sufficient information to give ‘intelligent consideration’, with adequate time for consideration and response, and that the results of the consultation must be consciously taken into account. All nine Dorset council leaders are committed to these principles and to listening to the public before a decision is made.  In conjunction with independent consulting experts, ORS, an eight-week consultation period was agreed, in line with the January 2016 government consultation principles introduced by former Policy Minister and Dorset MP, Oliver Letwin, which give clear guidance on conducting consultations. We believe this will give Dorset residents time to read the background information and give us their views.  We also believe it is a proportionate amount of time, given that the national consultation launched by the Boundary Commission that affects every parliamentary constituency across the whole of England is lasting 12 weeks.

41. Did the questionnaire include a specific option for no change?

One of the options presented, was for ‘no change’ – this was option 1.  Respondents were asked about their support or opposition to change and so their support or opposition to option 1.

42. What information can you give us about the statistical validity of the consultation?

Where a population is large, as in the case of Dorset (around 750,000 residents), it is impractical to obtain the views of all residents. In these circumstances it is normal to carry out a survey to estimate what the result would be if the views of the entire population had been asked.

Where a survey is based on a sample that has been selected at random and there is a chance that anyone in the population could be chosen to take part, survey estimates can be certified as statistically accurate to within a specific tolerance.

For example, we can be 95% confident that views based on responses from a random sample of 384 residents would reflect the views of the entire population to within ±5 percentage points. On this basis, 19 times in 20 the survey estimate will be no more than 5 percentage points away from the result had the question been asked of everyone in the population.

The household survey used a stratified random sampling approach and all addresses in each local authority area had an equal chance of selection.  The sample was designed to provide sufficient responses for analysis of views in each of the local authority areas.

The overall sample of 4,258 responses will provide survey estimates that will be accurate to around ±2 percentage points for the entire Dorset population. The survey estimates are sufficiently accurate to identify with statistical confidence the option with most support in each local authority area.  The accuracy of each estimate depends on the split in opinion for each question, the number of responses received and the extent of statistical weighting needed to compensate for different response rates for different types of households.

The specific accuracy of survey estimates for key questions will be reported in the ORS report of findings.

43. What methods were used in the consultation programme?

The consultation programme is conscientious and comprehensive in using a wide range of methods to study the opinions and attitudes of the public and stakeholders – including, in particular, a large Household Survey sent to 20,000 randomly selected households; an Open Questionnaire available for completion by anyone; deliberative workshops/forums with randomly selected residents, meetings and workshops with a wide range of stakeholders, including businesses and the voluntary sector; submissions; and petitions. Of course, the consultation is not about simply about numbers but about the arguments and evidence brought out by the consultation process – so its success is best measured in terms of the opportunities people have to present their arguments.

The Household Survey is a statistically robust guide to overall residents’ views in individual local authorities, as well as overall public opinion across the entire Dorset area.

The Open Consultation Questionnaire provides considerable information about the views of particular groups and individuals at very local levels, but it is less appropriate as a guide to overall opinion because the profile of people that respond will not match the overall Dorset population in terms of age, employment status etc. Nonetheless, the Open Questionnaire will be used to explore how people’s and organisations’ views differ by location, gender, age and other characteristics. In this context, ORS will show both the similarities and differences between the Open Questionnaire findings and the Household Survey by reporting them both fully.

44. What was the sampling for the household survey?

The Household Survey questionnaire was distributed to a sample of 20,000 address drawn randomly from the Postal Address File (an index of all residential addresses) for the whole of Dorset. The sample was stratified to ensure that each Local Authority area received an appropriate number of questionnaires – and therefore every household in each area of Dorset had an equal chance of receiving a questionnaire in the survey.

Using the postal address files, 2,000 addresses were randomly selected by ORS in each of the two-tier districts/boroughs, and 4,000 addresses were selected in each unitary authority, based on their larger populations. This will provide achieved sample sizes that allow reasonable comparison of final results between each of the local authority areas, and the larger sample size in Bournemouth and Poole will allow comparison of results between each of the upper-tier authority areas (Bournemouth, Poole and Dorset County Council).

Based on the experience of our research consultants ORS, it was anticipated a response rate of up to 20% (4,000 completed questionnaires) would be achievable from this contact sample. To boost the response rate, when the response rate reached 15% ORS sent reminders to all those who had not by then responded. Some groups and areas are more likely to return their survey questionnaires than others so ORS monitored the distribution of responses by area, age, sex and other demographic characteristics.

In the end, 4,258 responses were received. While reporting on significant differences in the views of different groups, ORS will ensure that the overall results are based on a representative cross-section of residents in each local authority area by appropriate statistical weighting to compensate for under- and over-representation in the final sample.

45. Why wasn’t every household surveyed?

It is impractical to obtain the views of all residents, in particular since the overall sample of 4,258 responses will provide survey estimates that will be accurate to around ±2 percentage points for the entire Dorset population. The survey estimates are also sufficiently accurate to identify with statistical confidence the option with most support in each local authority area.  The level of accuracy depends on the split in opinion for each question, the number of responses received and the extent of statistical weighting needed to compensate for different response rates for different types of households.

Additionally, any resident in Dorset could have their say by completing the online questionnaire or collecting a copy from their local library.

The Open Consultation Questionnaire provides considerable information about the views of particular groups and individuals at very local levels, but it is less appropriate as a guide to overall opinion because the profile of people that respond will not match the overall Dorset population in terms of age, employment status etc. Nonetheless, the Open Questionnaire will be used to explore how people’s and organisations’ views differ by location, gender, age and other characteristics. In this context, ORS will show both the similarities and differences between the Open Questionnaire findings and the Household Survey by reporting them both fully.

46. Were consultees given adequate time and information?

Current Cabinet Office Guidance for Consultation requires consultations to last for a proportionate amount of time, on the basis of legal advice and taking into account the nature and impact of the proposal, acknowledging that consulting for too long will unnecessarily delay policy development. The professional and experienced external consultants running the consultation is that eight weeks is sufficient for proposals of this nature.

Detailed information was provided on the key points of each of the options. Above all, the consultation focused on whether people believe there is a case for reducing the number of councils from nine to two, and which of three options for change people prefer. Explanations of council tax equalisation issues and the consequences of previous and projected public expenditure reductions were set out.  Cost and savings projections achievable through change were publicly available throughout in the Local Partnerships report.