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Four councils on South Coast to explore setting up unitary authority

Four councils in South East Dorset are examining whether to establish a single unitary authority from April 2019.

The proposal would see the new council take on all functions currently undertaken by Bournemouth, Christchurch, East Dorset and Poole Councils.

It would also assume responsibility for services currently run by Dorset County Council in Christchurch and East Dorset.

The four councils said they expected the benefits to be “numerous”, including:

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  • Cost savings and more efficient service provision, "through economies of scale, reduced management, better use of assets & buildings, and rationalisation of suppliers".
  • Better strategic planning – “for example around transport links, land planning and pupil admission numbers in schools”.
  • Greater access to funding nationally and internationally.
  • Enhanced economic growth opportunities – “through available employment land, a combined tourism offer, a plentiful and skilled workforce, and the location of 60% of all businesses in the county within the south east Dorset area”. 

The proposed unitary would serve a population of up to 487,000 residents, making it the eighth largest local authority in England, with an annual spending power in excess of £1bn.

The plans would need to be considered and approved by central Government.

The councils said an initial decision to proceed ‘in principle’ was likelty to be taken in spring 2016. A business case would then be produced, covering issues such as set-up costs, likely financial savings, numbers of councillors, managerial structures and definitive boundaries.

Cllr John Beesley, Leader of Bournemouth Council, said “One Council for south east Dorset is a significant opportunity for residents and businesses. We are keen to utilise new devolution powers being created by central government to benefit the economic prosperity and quality of life for residents, to achieve more joint-working on service delivery and management, to drive down costs further and allow us to plan wider than traditional local government boundaries.

“It is important that we consider all options in detail, and we must get this right. I believe that, given the significant economic concentration in south east Dorset, this geographical combination makes the most sense for local residents.”

Cllr Ray Nottage, Leader of Christchurch Borough Council, added: “We all agree the principle that, if the new Council goes ahead, existing Mayoralties should be maintained. There will be a need for a meticulous evaluation of existing civic identities and traditions, seeking to preserve those things that our communities value the most, that help to shape our respective senses of identity.

“Each community’s interests and views will be sought as we seek to ensure that all residents can identify with and have confidence in any new Council that is formed.”

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