As I write this column, while travelling from London to Dorset early on Friday morning, the votes cast in Thursday’s local elections in our neck of the woods have yet to be counted. So I can’t comment on the results. But I can confidently predict that, by the time that you are reading this, dear reader, a new set of councillors for our new Dorset Council will have been elected - and the long journey to the unification of the County and District councils in rural Dorset will have been brought at last to its conclusion.
I am delighted that we have reached this point, and that we can now look forward with some confidence to a future in which the costs of administration in our local government will be reduced and the money can be spent instead on meeting the serious challenges we face in looking after the frail elderly and the most vulnerable children.
Notwithstanding the very good news that the government is willing to fund another special school in the rural county (thereby enabling us to reduce the use of very expensive and often less satisfactory out-of-county placements for children with very particular needs), the new council will have its work cut out to keep our schools intact - even after the administrative savings from amalgamating the councils have been used to clear the accumulated deficit in the children’s services budget.
I hope that further revisions to the funding formula for local government, combined with additional taxpayer funding for schools throughout the country will provide some real light at the end of what has been a rather long tunnel for our head teachers and governors as they have sought to make ends meet in schools that have been under considerable financial pressure.
I think there should also be some light at the end of the tunnel for those who have been struggling to meet the pressure on the care of the frail elderly. The huge increases in spending on the NHS (which are just beginning to feed through), combined with the first signs of real moves towards integrating healthcare and social services for the elderly, should start to address what has been a growing problem ever since we all started living longer.
There is lots for the new council to do!
The good news is that the new Chief Executive, Matt Prosser, and his team seem to have got off to an excellent start. They have put the new council together with quiet efficiency.
I can’t say that I am surprised about this, because it was the same Mr Prosser who, some years ago, put together the staff of three of the District councils without any sign of disruption at all.
Nevertheless, it’s a relief to see that he appears to have done the same thing all over again on a bigger scale, as I have seen absolutely no evidence of any disruption arising from what could have been a difficult merger.
It is worth pausing a moment to reflect on this achievement as we look forward to all the challenges ahead.
For all the fashionable cynicism about the bureaucracies on whom we all depend for the smooth running our country, the fact is that we are very lucky to have in Britain people of the calibre of Mr Prosser, who are willing to devote their lives to the unglamorous and all too often unnoticed task of providing decent local government. It may not be romantic; but it is certainly necessary, and we should be grateful to the people who do it well.