Article - Local Government re-organisation

For many months now, we have been waiting for news about whether our County Council would be‎ allowed to merge with West Dorset District Council and the other district councils in Dorset to create a single council for rural Dorset.

This merger makes sense from every point of view.

It will save money that is currently spent on maintaining separate teams of councillors and separate teams of officers providing services under the aegis of the councillors.

This money can then be used to increase front-line expenditure on key services such as social care for the elderly, which is currently in need of significantly more funding due to the growth in the number of frail elderly people living in Dorset.

So one might wonder what there is not to like in the proposal to create a single 'unitary' local authority for the rural county.

But ‎of course there is no such thing as a reorganisation of local government that proceeds without opposition -- and, in this case, despite widespread popular support across Dorset, there has been considerable hesitation on the part of some of the District Councillors in the east of the county. So it has taken a long time for the Secretary of State to make a decision about whether to allow the merger to proceed.

Now, at last, we have received the news that Sajid Javid‎ is "minded" to allow the merger to go forward.

A period of further consultation and discussion are to follow. But I am very optimistic that ‎, by the end of this period in the early new year, we will have agreement from all of the relevant councils -- and that the Secretary of State will theOne of the welcome by-products of the unification will be that the new Dorset Council will seek to devolve an increased range of activities and powers to the parish and town councils.

‎One of the welcome by-products of the unification will be that the new Dorset Council will seek to devolve an increased range of activities and powers to the parish and town councils.

There is considerable scope for this, so far as the most local services are concerned. In places like Bridport and Lyme Regis -- and in other towns like Dorchester, Sherborne and Beaminster -- there are councils with the capacity and the intimate local knowledge needed in order to make sensible, grounded, common-sense decisions about how to meet the needs and preferences of local residents. And many of our villages, too, will welcome the opportunity to have more say.

The paradox is that, just as eliminating overlapping jurisdictions and bureaucracies higher up the chain will liberate funding for the front line, so at the most local level, transferring powers to the towns and parishes is likely to make the available money go further, because people in very thinly staffed town and parish councillors can often see cheaper and more sensible ways of doing things.‎