|Marsh Lane School
Plans for the school were supported unopposed by CBC Planning Committee. Cllr Colin Bungey spoke in favour of the school but urged DCC to consult further with residents before implementing traffic calming measures. We thank him for that. The next step is for DCC to formally approve the scheme before it is passed to the Secretary of State for a final decision.
Cost Saving In Dorset
A DCC plan to cut funding for 22 council-run youth centres should save £1m. DCC currently spends £2.2m a year on youth services and said it was moving away from a “buildings-based service” and hopes community groups will take on the running of services. There will be staff cuts whilst the buildings involved could be taken over by the local community or sold. Cllr Colin Bungey told us:
I have just come from a meeting of the Lighthouse Youth Club where we told that all youth clubs in Christchurch will close at the end of July 2016 unless community organisations wish to take them on - a sad day for the youth of this Borough and for Dorset
BIG Airport Development
The Bournemouth International Growth (BIG) programme is an economic growth plan focused on employment and development around Bournemouth Airport. Almost £40 million secured by Dorset Local Enterprise Partnership as part of the Dorset Growth Deal will fund a series of transport and infrastructure investments.
Bournemouth Airport and the associated Business Park (which are actually in Christchurch don’t forget) are both significant economic assets. However, as we all know, existing roads are congested and inadequate. Poor infrastructure and a lack of affordable housing are hindering growth.
Over the next four years the BIG programme will aim to completely change the roads around Bournemouth Airport. Hurn roundabout will be moved and Chapel Gate roundabout will be replaced with traffic lights. Work at Chapel Gate will begin after the work on the Spur Road is finished in the summer of 2016. The scheme to move Hurn roundabout is scheduled to start just over a year later, in October 2017, and will take between six to eight months.
No improvements are planned for Hurn Road-Fairmile Road but traffic will be able to reach the jam quicker than before.
The BIG initiative will also release land for new business premises at Aviation Business Park; provide the potential to create new skilled jobs; deliver around 350 new homes of which up to 50 per cent will be affordable housing; deliver increased broadband capacity. For more information about the BIG programme visit the Dorset LEP website
All we need now is for Bournemouth Football Club to build a new stadium near the airport and Bournemouth Council will be begging to merge with us.
Merging Christchurch with Bournemouth
Most of the comment we receive from residents is against the proposed merger with Bournemouth. Here’s an e-mail from John Cooper that takes the opposite view:
As the former Borough Treasurer of Christchurch and later a Councillor I have long held the view that Christchurch and Bournemouth should merge. This was before the Government started to slash the Rate Support Grant. The arrangement with East Dorset DC has allowed both Authorities to make savings to shield them from the grant cuts
We have now reached the point where something else has to be done.
Dorset is a small County (made smaller when Bournemouth and Poole were made unitary authorities) with small or relatively small District Councils. None of the Councils is really large enough to stand alone in the present financial climate. Mergers are the only answer if we are to avoid severe service cuts or massive Council Tax rises.
I would very much favour the four authority merger with perhaps another Unitary Authority for the other four. We certainly cannot go on as we are
How would a Merger be managed?
The high-level financial analysis currently in hand is looking into the business case. In the background local Council Officers are undertaking essential managerial tasks. We asked CBC CEO David McIntosh to give us an insight. Here’s what he said:
Dorset Chief Executives are agreed that there is a need for Officers to better understand the process that would be employed should the Dorset Councils decide to merge to form one or more unitary authorities
There was an initial meeting between the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) officials and the Chief Executives. This in turn led to the request from the Secretary of State that he wished to meet with all of the Dorset Council Leaders (WCRA note: our elected representatives as distinct from Officers). This meeting took place at the end of November.
Since then, and in support of the business case, the Dorset Chief Executives agreed that there was a need to understand, in considerable detail, the legal and parliamentary process that would be required. We wanted to ensure that there was a workable way forward should the Councils agree to make a proposal to the Government to form a unitary authority. This was particularly relevant because of the potential impact of the then Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill (which was enacted last week).
There was a further meeting with DCLG last week specifically for the Heads of Legal/Monitoring Officers of all of the Dorset Councils (with the exception EDDC as they have opted out) to develop a collective understanding further. As you might imagine, and even with the new Act simplifying things, there would still be quite a few hoops to jump through. Should the business case stack up then this work will inform the Councils how things would move forward.
All very sensible in our view – good to see managers doing what they are paid to do – manage!
So what is Central Government Up To?
A number of you posed that question to us so we wrote to Christchurch MP Christopher Chope and asked him. Here’s his reply:
As you may know, I have made representations to the Government and had meetings with Government Ministers to express my concern about the raw deal for Dorset County Council and the District Councils. I will not know until tomorrow the extent to which, if at all, these concerns have led to changes. (WCRA note: see further information immediately after his letter)
Irrespective of how tough the financial settlement is, it will not require the merger of local authorities in Dorset. As Christchurch and East Dorset have shown already, savings can be made in the cost of delivering services without removing the responsibility for those services from local Councillors.
You express some scepticism that Ministers may not honour their commitment that they will not impose change on Councils against their will. I continue to be assured that Dorset will be allowed to retain its existing structures. My assessment is that central government would, ideally, like all local authorities to be mere deliverers on their behalf of statutory services such as social services, care for the elderly and refuse collection. Those local services which are discretionary, such as libraries, parks, arts and recreation, have always been of less interest to central government.
Against the background I have described, it is, in my view, essential that local people should fight hard to protect their control over the discretionary services which define and differentiate one local authority area from another.
In Christchurch, for example, we are proud to support Highcliffe Castle, our parks and beaches and admire East Dorset for their partnership with the Forestry Commission at Moors Valley.
The local service which makes the greatest difference to the lives of local people is planning. It would be less sensitive and accountable to local opinion if important planning decisions were made by Councillors without local knowledge.
It may be correct that the creation of a unitary Dorset would help the County Council because it would then be able to divert council tax income to its statutory services and reduce the money currently used by District Councils for local discretionary services. But that would be a major assault upon localism and is one of the reasons why I believe that any structural change in local government should be subject to proper consultation with electors.
If an increase in council tax above 2% requires a local referendum then, surely, major structural change should also require such a referendum.
I would be very happy to meet with members of the Residents’ Associations in your alliance at a mutually convenient time. Although it might suit the Government agenda, local residents should not allow themselves to be seduced into acceptance of radical change which could be very much against their long term interests. Big Government always hopes that it will be able to take advantage of local inertia. This must not happen in Christchurch.
We shall continue to ensure there is no inertia in this neck of the woods. In that context here’s a date for your diary: Thursday 21st April at 7.30pm in the Hall on the Hill, Marlow Drive, West Christchurch. A presentation by CBC Strategic Director David Barnes followed by a Question and Answer session with all our local Councillors
Those Late Changes
Chris Chope MP kindly subsequently sent us a copy of a letter from Minister Greg Clark. From this we learned that changes to the Revenue Support Grant settlement mean that in 2016-17 DCC - which was facing a £20.7m deficit - is now looking for £16.6m thanks to a transitional grant of £4.1m. In 2017/18 DCC will receive £3.5m from the transitional grant; every little helps but in our opinion it’s not a scene changer.
DCC Leader Robert Gould said “we still face a challenging situation” and pledged to lobby the government for a better long-term deal. Leading DCC opposition councillor Roz Kayes said “the extra cash clearly isn't enough. The government has got to take responsibility. It keeps passing the deficit on to local government and expecting them to cope, and it's got to the point of no return”.
We also learned that CBC will receive additional transitional grant funding of £54,008 in 2016/17 and £53,807 in 2017/18. EDDC will receive £145,425 in 2016/17 and £80,363 in 2017/18.
The Minister also announced a review to consider the appropriate funding needs of different types of areas. It is nearly 10 years since the current formula was looked at thoroughly, and there is good reason to believe that demographic pressures – such as the growth in the elderly population – have affected different areas in different ways, as has the cost of providing services. They will assess what the formula should be in a world in which local government spending is funded by local resources not by central grant – which will clearly put great emphasis on business rates and other forms of income.
Such a review is long overdue in our opinion.
Bournemouth Reveals Impact of Government Action
Bournemouth needs to find a further £14m of savings in 2016-17 and £12m in 2017-18, with even more to follow. This places them on a par with Christchurch, East Dorset and DCC as well as Poole. They propose to increase Council Tax for the first time in six years and are transferring hundreds of staff in finance, human resources and building maintenance back "in house" and away from subcontractor Kier.
Leader of the council John Beesley said "In this increasingly difficult financial environment, it is apparent that the council needs to control directly the annual £14m spend currently associated with the delivery of services within the Kier partnership contract, so that we can make further changes without the need for more complex contractual negotiations,"
(WCRA Comment: What he means is that it’s easier to relocate your own staff or make them redundant than to negotiate with a subcontractor to do it).
Meanwhile in East Dorset
EDDC has appointed a new leader with a familiar face – Cllr Spencer Flower. We liaised with Cllr Flower when we successfully fought to stop DCC from building a huge white elephant of a waste disposal plant out at Hurn and welcome his appointment.
Mind How You Go
Some of Dorset’s most prolific offenders have been sentenced to a combined total of over 57 years imprisonment during 2015, following arrests made during the police’s Operation Castle campaign. Offenders from across Dorset have been caught and prosecuted for committing amongst other things, robbery, burglary and vehicle related crime.
Operation Castle is an ongoing initiative, but has even more resources dedicated to it when criminals traditionally increase their activity, such as at Christmas and New Year. Patrol officers and Neighbourhood Policing Teams work alongside detectives and plain clothed officers to find out who is committing crime and prevent them from offending in local communities.
A police spokesman said “I’d like to reassure members of the public that burglary is reducing year-on-year, but we still need the community to report suspicious behaviour and criminality, so I would encourage anyone with information to call Dorset Police so that we can help make their area a safer place to live, work and socialise.
So here’s another date for your diary. The election of the Police and Crime Commissioner is due this coming May. The first time around these elections were a very quiet affair and the turnout was a measly 15%. This time ACRA have arranged a public meeting where all the candidates will be offered the chance to speak and answer your questions. It will take place on Wednesday 27th April at 7.30pm in Druitt Hall, Central Christchurch. The existing Commissioner Martyn Underhill has already accepted an invitation to participate and we await details of who will be standing against him.
Fraudsters are sending out virus infected e-mails that claim a package addressed to you has been seized by HM Revenue & Customs upon arrival into the United Kingdom.
The official looking e-mail claims to be from Royal Mail and contains a link to a document which, if you open it, will install malicious software on your computer designed to steal credentials like account names, e-mail addresses and passwords. The e-mail will say something like: Please review the attached PDF document for more information. Document (RM7002137GB).Zip. Please accept our apologies for any inconvenience this may have caused.
If you receive one of these emails, do not click on any links or download any attachments and report receipt to Action Fraud http://www.actionfraud.police.uk/report_fraud or 0300 123 2040
Watch Your Speed
From December 18th to January 4th Dorset Police issued over 200 prosecutions for speeding through the roadworks on the Spur Road. In case you were wondering, the money generated by fines will go to central Government.
Once again we’re engaged in the task of working out who will come round and collect your £1 membership from you. We’ve lost a couple of collectors since last year so please let’s have some volunteers to help out. If you enjoy chatting to your neighbours it’s not an onerous task – just reply to this e-mail. Without our collectors WCRA would cease to exist.
Amongst other delights, there’s a Mantovani Trip coming up. Go to www.hallonthehill.org.uk and click on forthcoming events for full details