Article - Local Government Reorganisation

I am writing this column not many hours before Parliament debates the Statutory Instrument which (if passed) will trigger the reorganisation of local government in Dorset.

So, at long last, we are now heading firmly towards the amalgamations that will replace Dorset's current 9 councils with just 2 - a single council for the rural county of Dorset and another for the conurbation in the East. 

I understand that, somewhat bizarrely, Christchurch Borough Council has decided to spend some of its council tax payers' money on a rear-guard legal action intended to delay or disrupt the process. And I expect this will be amongst the items discussed when the committee in a Parliament debates the Statutory Instrument. But I would be surprised if this prevents the Statutory Instrument from receiving the support it needs from the committee - and, from what I can gather about the nature of the legal case being mounted by Christchurch Council, I don't expect that the courts will intervene to prevent the Secretary of State from carrying out the orders contained in the Statutory Instrument. So my guess is that we are, finally, reaching the end of a process that has been under discussion for many years. 

As I have said before in this column, I am completely convinced this is the right move for Dorset. It will cut down the overhead costs of our Councils (for example, by having just two Chief Executives and two groups of Directors in place of 9 of each). And, perhaps even more importantly, it will enable much more integrated and sensible approaches to crucial issues such as the provision of social care for the frail elderly. 

It has taken a long time to get this stage. But, if the amalgamations now proceed smoothly, it will have been worth the wait.  

Once the number of councils has been shrunk and steps have been taken to integrate the major county-wide services, there will be an opportunity to enable some of the things that are currently being done by the District or the County Council to be done much more locally by town and parish councils 

It is too early to say just how this would work out in different parts of West Dorset - and there will no doubt be considerable variation in the number of truly local services in particular that parishes and towns are willing to take on for themselves. 

But I am heartened to see that some of the town councils, in particular, have been thinking very hard about this and I expect there will be some interesting and ultimately productive negotiations, leading to more direct responsibility for and control over neighbourhood services to be taken on at neighbourhood level. That, too, will be more efficient and more sensible.