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Public backs Dorset's reorganisation proposals

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Residents in Dorset want to scrap the county council and create two unitaries out of the area’s nine local authorities.

Out of the options presented to the public in a consultation, the proposal which received the most support overall was for a unitary council to be created to cover Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole, along with another one for East Dorset, North Dorset, Purbeck, West Dorset, and Weymouth and Portland.

The prospect of replacing nine existing councils with two new ones was supported by almost three-quarters (73%) of those targeted in the household survey and just over two-thirds (68%) of respondents to the open questionnaire. In relation to the specific proposals for two medium-sized unitaries, that received 64% support from respondents to the household survey and 53% support from those using the open questionnaire.

Based on those options a unitary for Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole would serve a population of about 390,000 residents, while a unitary for East Dorset, North Dorset, Purbeck, West Dorset, and Weymouth and Portland would provide services for about 369,000 residents.

Communitues secretary Sajid Javid, speaking at the County Councils Network’s annual conference last month, said the Department for Communities & Local Government “typically look for” proposals for unitary councils to represent “anywhere between 300,000 and 800,000” people.

A study undertaken by PriceWaterhouseCoopers found there was a “compelling” case for reorganisation in Dorset.

It referred to analysis by Local Partnerships, which is jointly owned by the Local Government Association and the Treasury, which found the nine local authorities needed to find about £52m combined savings between 2017 and 2019 with a further £30m on top of that by 2025.

The report said the option most preferred by the public would deliver the most savings about £28m per year following an initial £25m investment.

Any new councils would come into being in April 2019.

Scott Bailey, partner at PwC, said: “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.”

Dorset’s public consultation, carried out between 30 August and 25 October, received more than 17,000 responses – about 2% of the area’s population.

Only in Bournemouth were residents targeted in the household survey less favourable to reducing the number of councils in the county from nine to two – the proposal only received backing from 25%.

The executive summary of the consultation, carried out by Opinion Research Services, said the findings overall “does not mean that the local government in Dorset must be reformed” but added: “The evidence of the consultation is that there is widespread public support for the restructuring of local government.”

A joint statement from all nine of Dorset’s council leaders said: “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.”

They said they, along with members on their individual councils, would examine the evidence before councillors will be asked to make a decision on the proposals in January.

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