Communities secretary Greg Clark has softened his predecessor’s hard line position on local government reorganisation, LGC learned.
During his time at the Department for Communities & Local Government, Sir Eric Pickles was noted for his rigid view that he would entertain reorganisation proposals only if all councils affected were in agreedment.
But LGC understands Mr Clark has agreed to consider two proposals to create new unitary authorities, despite neither enjoying support from the local ounty councils.
A senior political source told LGC the communities secretary was “willing to listen to ideas”.
The source said proposals need not be fully agreed locally first and Mr Clark would see if those he thought viable could be made to work. However, the communities secretary would not consider changes that required new legislation.
The source added: “Greg is willing to listen to any offer but this will be bottom up, he does not want to make decisions for people.”
Bournemouth BC leader John Beesley (Con) told LGC Mr Clark indicated during a conversation at the Conservative party conference last week that he would listen to reorganisation ideas even if these were locally disputed.
Cllr Beesley is promoting a South East Dorset unitary covering the conurbation around Bournemouth, including Borough of Poole, Christchurch BC and East Dorset DC.
This would effectively dismantle Dorset CC and leave the future of the other four Dorset districts in limbo.
“Greg Clark takes a different view from Eric Pickles on this and on other things,” Cllr Beesley told LGC.
“I spoke to him at the conference and he said we could progress devolution [to a Dorset combined authority] and reorganisation together. I told him we could be a real game changer, an example of authorities coming together.”
Meanwhile the leader of Chorley BC, Alastair Bradley (Lab) and local Labour MP Lindsay Hoyle met Mr Clark last month to put the idea of Chorley becoming ‘halfway house’ between a district and unitary. A Chorley spokesman told LGC they had been invited to provide further detail.
The borough announced it wanted to break away from Lancashire CC earlier this year.
But after an independent commission reported on options the council is now likely to bid for only some services provided by Lancashire rather than full unitary status. The county council refused to participate in the exercise.