The new Dorset Council will replace the existing district and borough councils (East Dorset, North Dorset, Purbeck, West Dorset, Weymouth & Portland) and Dorset County Council, all of which will cease to exist.
This is a momentous time for local government in Dorset, and I feel incredibly proud to be part of it. I believe we have taken a bold step and the right step, not just for those we currently serve but for future generations.
We are on a journey and have already achieved a huge amount, but we recognise that there is at least two years of wider transformation work ahead.
We are in a good position, with a new team of executive directors who collectively bring a huge amount of knowledge and experience from other councils and organisations to combine with our existing employees serving Dorset.
“Our overriding goal is to protect services for residents and deliver a financially sustainable council
We will also be welcoming 82 councillors after the May elections, who will develop their vision for the new council.
We have a strong background in service reform in Dorset and our colleagues have valuable experience in this area. What feels different this time is the sheer scale.
This reorganisation will bring together almost 5,000 employees, plus our colleagues in education, making more than 8,000 – all with different cultures and ways of working. Creating a new culture will be one of our biggest challenges, but also one of our biggest opportunities to transform the way we provide services.
For the 377,000 residents in the Dorset Council area, there will not be significant change to the way their services are delivered to begin with, as the focus is on ensuring services are ‘safe and legal’.
What is important to me is that those who want to can help shape our new council. We’ve set up a ‘People’s Panel’ for our residents, which is already attracting interest. Our ethos is that we all have a shared responsibility to make Dorset Council the best it can be, and we will be working in partnership with communities across the county to do that.
This programme has been complex, fast-moving, and on top of the day job, and I am thankful to everyone involved. It has not been easy and we are having to make difficult decisions, including restructuring to move forwards with our proposed staffing structure: we recognise that it’s a challenging time for many colleagues.
Our overriding goal is to protect services for residents and deliver a financially sustainable council. Like many councils across the country, we face ongoing financial pressures. However, last month, we set our first budget, which protects and invests in frontline services.
We were able to provide a balanced budget, with no cuts to existing services and an increase in funding to a number of priority services, including £5.8 million towards the care and education of children; £900,000 for an increased number of foster carers; £1.372 million for rubbish, recycling and street cleaning services; £1.5 million towards services for vulnerable adults; and £150,000 towards tackling homelessness.
This additional investment wouldn’t have been available without the reorganisation of our councils. This is a new era for local government in Dorset and one we will be embracing. From six councils to one, together we are Dorset Council.