Article - Local Councils

I hope that this may be the very last occasion upon which I feel moved to write in this column about local government reorganisation in Dorset.

As I write, I have just witnessed the piece of legislation required to bring our various councils together into a single Dorset Council pass through the House of Lords, having – earlier in the day – passed through the House of Commons.

Westminster has witnessed more interest in the affairs of our County during the past couple of weeks than I can recall at any time in my more than 20 years as an MP.

The piece of legislation involved is known as a “Statutory Instrument” – and it has to go through a series of processes in both Houses of Parliament before it becomes law. The first of these, as I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, is a debate in Committee. This takes place in a room high up in the Palace of Westminster, well away from the main debating chamber.

Normally, such debates in Committee about Statutory Instruments are thinly attended and short-lived events. The Minister explains what the Instrument is about. The Opposition Spokesman sets out the Opposition’s view. And, often enough, that is that. All done and dusted in just a few minutes.

It was not so in the case of reorganisation of Dorset local government. Much was said over the course of a full three hours. MPs wandered in to see what was going on as news of the proceedings reached the rest of Westminster via social media.

But, at the end of the day, the Instrument passed through the Committee without any vote to the contrary – as I write, it has received a huge majority of support in the ballot carried out amongst MPs as a whole, and has been given the approval of the House of Lords without a vote.

So we are, at last, in a position to move forward with this much needed reform that will give us the administrative savings we require in order to provide proper funding for frontline services, as well as the more integrated approach we need in order to make the delivery of those services more efficient and effective.

This is a victory for common sense – and we should celebrate that fact. Now, the hard work of creating the new Unitary Authority can begin.

There will be a lot of effort needed to bring the new authority into existence. Some of this will be fairly straightforward – as it will involve electors electing a new set of Councillors to manage the new Dorset Council – and that will proceed, no doubt, in a perfectly smooth way.

But, for the Chief Executives and Directors and Managers of the existing County Council and the five District councils which will form the new council, things are much less straightforward. Part of the point of the whole operation is to make savings in the administrative overhead by creating one integrated management – and this will inevitably involve a lot of delicate decisions as well as a lot of coordination.

We know it can be done, because it has been done elsewhere with great success – but we shouldn’t underestimate the leadership that will be required to make it happen.