Article - Councils

I wish I had a Pound for every time that someone in West Dorset had asked me or told me something about "the Council". In point of fact, quite apart from Parish or Town Councils, everyone in West Dorset currently has two councils - one covering our own West Dorset District and the other covering the rural County as a whole.

Over the years, it has become clear to me that the boundary between what the district council does and what the county council does is pretty blurred in most people's' minds - hence, vague references to "the Council" abound.

There is now a distinct possibility that  those who have been talking loosely about "the Council" for all these years will be justified by the establishment of a single council for the rural County.

A very large survey of Dorset residents has revealed that electors locally favour the establishment of a unitary council for the rural County by a majority of about 3:1 - and, although not all the district councils have followed their leaders and chief executives in supporting the proposals, across Dorset as a whole about three times as many councillors have voted for the proposals than have voted against them. Now, the leaders of  those councils that have approved the plan have submitted a request to the Secretary of State, asking him to consider rationalising the current structures so that we end up with one, unitary authority for the rural County and another unitary authority for the Bournemouth/ Poole/ Christchurch conurbation.

There is still some work to be done on the detail to bring round the three district councils that haven't yet agreed. But I very much hope that the Secretary of State will give the proposals a fair wind so that work on detailed resolutions can proceed.

The reason why this all matters a lot is that combining the councils can save many millions of Pounds a year in administrative overheads. In the case of the rural County, replacing six sets of councillors with one set and then creating a single chief executive, a single set of senior managers, and a single set of back office functions can liberate funds - all of which can then be used to finance the seriously overstretched budget for social care of the elderly - thereby helping significantly to reduce pressure on the NHS in Dorset.

We will inevitably face many challenges as we come to grips with the ageing of our population. Some of the solutions to these challenges will be complicated and difficult to bring about. In that context, freeing up some money by combining councils, which many people think are already combined, looks to me pretty much like a "no-brainer".