The secretary of state for communities and local government yesterday agreed to support plans to create two new unitary authorities in Dorset.
There are two small unitary councils - Bournemouth and Poole - in the Dorset area which are surrounded by a two-tier structure of Dorset County Council and the district councils of Christchurch, East Dorset, North Dorset, Purbeck, West Dorset and Weymouth & Portland.
If implemented, the plans - outlined in the Future Dorset paper - will see the nine councils replaced by two unitary councils, saving the area a projected £108m in the first six years.
One of the proposed authorities would cover the areas of Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch, and the other would cover the remainder of the current county area.
Consultations on the idea of reforming local government arrangements in the south-western county found 73% of the residents who responded supported the idea of change and 65% backed the proposed geographical composition.
Dorset LEP supports the plan, as do 89% of businesses operating in the county, according to the proposals.
The Future Dorset plans were first submitted to the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) last February and had the support of six of the nine councils.
East Dorset District Council, Purbeck District Council and Christchurch Borough Council voted against the reform.
‘I’ve always been clear that any change to council structures should be led by local councils as well as supported by local residents,’ said Mr Javid.
‘I am satisfied that the proposals submitted are likely to improve local government, improve services and save local taxpayers money.
‘So I am minded to support these plans at this stage, though further steps are needed to secure local consent, and I would urge all residents to take a look before a final decision is made.’
Responding to the communities secretary’s statement, the leaders of the six councils behind the reform said: ‘We have bold ambitions for our county, and strongly believe our plan will deliver a bright and successful future for all those who live here.
‘We presented overwhelmingly strong evidence to the Secretary of State – evidence of public support, of backing by Dorset’s business community and voluntary sector, and of immense benefits for the whole county.
‘Our case for change showed that our plans will drive forward the economic prosperity of the county, helping people achieve a better quality of life.
‘Two councils will be more efficient, save money and protect public services. They can begin to secure a sustainable future for the public services that people value and need, including and in particular, essential social care for our growing older population.’
However, the leader of Purbeck District Council Gary Suttle said: ‘In January 2017, Purbeck District Council voted against the proposal and this position has not changed.
‘Following today’s announcement by the secretary of state, we will consider the implications for our residents and may make further representations during the consultation period.’
Simon Edwards, director of the County Councils Network (CCN), welcomed the communities secretary’s backing for the reforms.
‘For those wishing to pursue reform, this signals a new direction in Government policy,’ he said.
‘Our independent research has shown there to be significant financial, economic and public service reform benefits for those willing to pursuing reform at scale,’ Mr Edwards continued.
‘This bid was unique, having two neighbouring unitary authorities wishing to combine, alongside the consolidation of the two-tier system in the county.’
Mr Javid announced he is also minded to approve the locally-led proposal to merge Suffolk Coastal DC and Waveney DC into a single district council.
He said: ‘I’ve always been clear that any change to council structures should be led by local councils as well as supported by local residents.
‘I am satisfied that the proposals submitted are likely to improve local government, improve services and save local taxpayers money.’