Article - Unitary Council for Dorset

I see that Matt Prosser has now been officially appointed as the Chief Executive of the new Unitary Council for Rural Dorset.

From what I can gather, there was a strong field of candidates for this important new post. But I, for one, very much welcome Mr Prosser’s appointment – because I have seen him at work over the past few years, pulling together the operations and staff of West Dorset District Council, Weymouth and Portland Borough Council and North Dorset District Council. He has done this all so smoothly that I haven’t had a single letter or email complaining about the merger. In fact, I am pretty much persuaded that most readers of this column will not have known that the entire staff of the three councils had been brought together in one new outfit.

If he can achieve the same seamless effect when it comes to knitting together these three district councils with the other district councils of rural Dorset and the County Council, then we shall all be very much in his debt.

There is, however, another good thing about this appointment. The sheer fact that it has been made at all is the latest indication that the merger of the seven councils to create one new unitary council for rural Dorset is actually happening.

Once the relevant Secondary Legislation had gone through Parliament, and the delaying action in the High Court had come to an end, I began to assume that the merger would indeed be completed. But you never quite know until the ink is all dried on all the relevant pieces of paper – and it is therefore extremely encouraging to see this further, definite move forward.

I have the highest hopes that, as well as creating quite a lot of opportunity for saving in administrative overheads, the new unitary will be able to bring together functions like housing and social care and transport in a way that enables resources to be much more efficiently deployed when it comes, for example, to the provision of services for the frail elderly – who need transport and housing as well as social care, and who are more likely to get good versions of all three if all three services can be planned together.

But I think we can hope that the new Unitary Council for Dorset will go beyond this.

At present, the various district councils are busily preparing local plans for housing and other development, while the County Council is working with Highways England and the LEP on the road transport network, and a separate part of the County Council is working on the handling of waste in another plan. It would clearly make abundant sense to bring all of these plans together in one coherent whole – so that the development of housing and business premises, the planning of the transport system, and the organisation of waste transfer can be considered alongside the provision of schooling, healthcare and social care in one integrated vision.

This is such an obvious proposition that it seems extraordinary for it to be worth mentioning. But the truth is, that over many years, we haven’t done this in Dorset.

Now is the moment to start this quiet revolution!