It’s all change for councils next year

Legislation now passed in both Houses of Parliament means that Dorset residents will be served by two brand new unitary councils from April 2019 – Bournemouth Christchurch and Poole Council, and Dorset Council.  The county’s nine current councils will cease to exist on 31 March 2019.

The leaders of the eight councils who have consented to local government reform have welcomed the news.

Cllr John Beesley for Bournemouth, Cllr Rebecca Knox for Dorset, Cllr Janet Walton for Poole, Cllr Spencer Flower for East Dorset, Cllr Gary Suttle for Purbeck, Cllr Graham Carr-Jones for North Dorset, Cllr Anthony Alford for West Dorset and Cllr Jeff Cant for Weymouth & Portland said:

“This is an historic day for local government in our county, and we are exceptionally proud to have reached this significant milestone.

“We would like to thank all councillors, officers, business organisations, MPs, town and parish councils, public sector partners, the voluntary sector and, of course, the residents of Dorset, Poole and Bournemouth for clearly recognising the benefits that this change will bring and for supporting us through what has been a long and complex process.

“People recognised that Dorset is made up of a distinct and established conurbation and a defined county area, each with its own differing needs and priorities. They, like us, saw the logic of streamlined local government, of having councils with less overheads that are better able to protect local services in the future and that can spend a greater proportion of available funds on frontline provision like road repairs, children’s services, adult social care, waste & recycling, parks, and libraries.

“Both new councils will serve around 400,000 residents, putting them within the twenty largest local authorities in the country.  It is the immense opportunity that this strength of position gives us at a national level that is the most exciting benefit of all.  These two new councils will have a stronger, coordinated voice when bidding for government funding and investment for things like road improvements, housing, schools and economic regeneration; the things that benefit an area for all those living within it.”

Now that the legislation has been approved by Parliament, the final order will be made, and the two joint committees, set up to make the local decisions needed to ensure the Parliamentary process could complete, will disband.  They will be replaced by two shadow authorities – one for each new council area.  The first meeting of these shadow authorities must take place within 14 days of the order being made.

At its first meeting, each shadow authority is required appoint statutory officers on an interim basis, those roles being the head of paid service, monitoring officer and chief finance officer, as well as appoint members to relevant committees and confirm the preceding councils’ nominations to a shadow executive committee.

Each of shadow executive committee oversees the implementation plans for the new councils, having taken this responsibility on following the cessation of the joint committees.

At a meeting early next year, the shadow authorities will be responsible for setting the first budget of each new unitary council. The shadow authorities are not involved in ongoing service delivery, as these functions remain with the nine councils that currently exist, and will then transfer to the appropriate new councils in April next year. The focus of the preceding nine councils is to continue to deliver all services between now and April 2019, and make plans for smooth service continuity on day one of the new unitary authorities.

The Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Shadow Authority is made up of 125 seats, filled by all existing 120 Councillors from the preceding authorities including five councillors who are both Borough and County Councillors for Christchurch.  The first meeting takes place on 6 June at 7pm at Bournemouth University.

For the Dorset Council, the Shadow Authority comprises 206 seats, occupied by 174 existing councillors. The inaugural meeting will take place on 7 June at 6.30pm at South Walks House, Dorchester.