Dorset PCC Asks “Are Councils Being Ambitious Enough in Local Authority Reorganisation?”

Dorset’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Martyn Underhill has reacted to the consultation announced today for reorganisation to local authority structures.

Dorset PCC Asks “Are Councils Being Ambitious Enough in Local Authority Reorganisation?”

The Commissioner notes that residents are being given four options of how they would like to see their local authorities set up to deliver services to our community.  Option one sees the Councils doing nothing at all whilst the other three options, split up the local authorities into two areas of varying sizes. 

Dorset Police and Crime Commissioner, Martyn Underhill, said; “Just like policing, local authorities have to save money in times of austerity.  We have set up a Strategic Alliance with Devon and Cornwall Police, generating multi-million pound savings and protecting front line services. The Government’s devolution agenda goes a step further, enabling local authorities to work even closer together and it is vital Dorset residents share their views on the proposals. 

As the only person elected to represent the whole of Dorset, I am surprised and disappointed by the consultation published today.  This proposal is the biggest democratic change in our county in a generation and could offer an exciting transformation of public services, with joined up services at less cost therefore delivering better value for the people of Dorset.  It is an opportunity missed. I make these comments from a democratic point of view, not a political one. I am concerned by the lack of democratic process being adopted, indeed I challenge that process.

I challenge firstly because the consultation planned will clearly not reach all of my constituents, it will be lucky to reach 1 in 10.  A referendum would reach everyone but this is not on offer despite costing only about 1% of the projected savings of the clearly favoured option.  Surely this would be money well spent to achieve a clear and fully democratic mandate that Government would struggle to ignore.

Secondly, I dispute how the Council officers can state the consultation is as “neutral and impartial as possible”. The consultation sets out limited options and is heavily biased towards one option, mainly on financial grounds, which is worrying.   

Of the options available, there is not enough information to properly inform the public, and I question why the single Dorset unitary authority option was removed. We know that a full business case was "worked up" and it predicted savings of a further £5m – the reasons given for excluding this option simply do not stack up. We deliver emergency services and health services in a joined up pan Dorset way (or bigger in relation to fire and ambulance) why can’t we deliver a pan Dorset unitary as well?

Everyone involved in this debate should be seeking to do the right thing for the people of Dorset, the best thing for my constituents.  They should not be driven by what they feel they can achieve. By setting sights low they have hampered what could be a real chance to deliver better, more cost effective public services across our county. That saddens me.  

In summary, the residents of Dorset, the people responsible for electing the very public servants who make up local authorities, are the people who should decide.  Give those people, all of whom I was elected to represent, the opportunity to make an informed decision.   Give them all of the facts, not some of them, and then hold a referendum.   Let the people of Dorset speak, not the politicians.  

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