Dorset's Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) has condemned the council’s consultation on local government shake-up as ‘an opportunity missed’ and called for a referendum on future changes.
A public consultation on the future shape of local government in Dorset was launched yesterday asking residents to give their views on two options: retain the county’s nine councils or create two new unitary councils.
The consultation does not include proposals, put forward last September, for a single unitary authority.
The proposed reform - option two - is aimed at addressing ‘the unprecedented financial pressure on local services across the county.’ Dorset’s nine councils receive £142m less per year in Government funding today than they did in 2010/11 and must reduce costs by £200m per year by 2019/20.
The consultation - called Reshaping your Councils - will be carried out through questionnaires. They will be sent to 20,000 households across Dorset and will also be available online and in libraries. It will run until 25 October 2016.
‘Despite all our hard work to make our councils more efficient and protect frontline services, the financial reality is that the current structure of local government is not sustainable,’ said Cllr Anthony Alford, vice-chairman of the Dorset Leaders’ Growth Board.
‘A further £30.4m less will be available to spend per annum between 2019 and 2025 and the harsh reality is that many services will have to change drastically, or even stop altogether if savings cannot be made.’
‘It is now essential that change is considered in order to minimise cuts to services beyond 2019/20, and ensure councils are sustainable for the future. We want to hear the views of local people before any decisions are made,’ he added.
Dorset’s PCC, Martyn Underhill, has criticised the consultation as ‘undemocratic’ and ‘biased’.
He warned the consultation will only reach one in 10 people and proposed a referendum, which he argued would reach everyone and give ‘a clear and fully democratic mandate’ for reform.
Mr Underhill also questioned councils’ claim the consultation was as ‘neutral and impartial as possible’ and asked why the single Dorset unitary authority option was removed.
‘The consultation sets out limited options and is heavily biased towards one option, mainly on financial grounds, which is worrying,’ he said.
‘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,’ Mr Underhill said.
‘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.’