Special Edition August 2016
|Merging Christchurch with Bournemouth and Poole
The Councils that make up Dorset County Council along with Bournemouth and Poole Councils are proposing to merge to form two new Councils.
One Council will be made up of the urban areas of Bournemouth and Poole in any event then possibly plus us in Christchurch and possibly plus us and East Dorset as well.
Whichever of those three options is chosen, the remainder that include the rural councils of North Dorset, West Dorset, Purbeck, Portland and Weymouth will form a second Council.
These proposals have come about following heavy pressure from Central Government to reform what is seen as a fragmented and inefficient structure.
Your opinion on what should happen counts and we have worked hard to ensure that you get to have a say – please make the most of the opportunity.
In this newsletter we will tell you how you can register your opinions. As a Residents Association we only have your interest at heart completely devoid of any political influence.
Why is this happening?
Our Council is funded by four sources of income: Council Tax; Business Rates; Fees and Charges (such as parking charges); plus a Grant from Central Government (that is a portion of the income tax that we pay redistributed back to our Local Authority – it is called Revenue Support Grant).
In the autumn of 2015 the Government announced that over the next few years it would reduce the Grant to nothing. Local Authorities would from 2020 have to survive on what they could raise locally. The effect of this will be to put CBC and other Councils into a funding deficit.
As part of this change, the Government have made it clear that they wish in future to deal only with a small number of “large” authorities. Large is undefined but Dorset has four councils in the smallest twenty in England measured by size of electorate, one of which is Christchurch.
Central Government believe this to be economically unsustainable. In addition, both Poole and Bournemouth are each believed to be too small to survive as stand-alone organisations. If you want to read a summary of the whole background from October 2015 onwards, go to our website www.wcresidents.co.uk and click on Council Affairs – Local Government Reorganisation where you will find a link to a report called ACRA Summary to June 2016
The Leader of Purbeck Council has stated that the Council is not considering the proposed review because it wants to.It is important that the Council participated, he said. If it did not, and the majority of the other eight councils within the County voted for the changes, the Government could impose those changes on Purbeck against its wishes using the new Cities & Local Government Act 2016. Therefore, it is better to be part of the process.
The main financial issues
There are two classes of issues – financial ones and other non-financial matters.
Once it became clear that the reorganisation of Dorset Councils was inevitable WCRA undertook a study of the likely financial implications to put us in a position to lobby for equality of treatment for Christchurch residents as against residents of other Authorities
An initial overall assessment led us to the following conclusions (a “funding deficit” means the Council is spending more money than it is taking in – Dorset Council has failed to balance its books for the last two years and has survived by transferring money out of savings into current account):
Bournemouth and Poole unitaries have funding deficits, are both too small to be economically viable and have little choice but to merge.
Dorset Council plus many of its second tier rural councils such as West Dorset all have funding deficits.
It is clearly cheaper in terms of cost per head to provide local authority services in an urban area than in a rural area but the urban area must be large enough to benefit from economy of scale.
Christchurch residents would be best served as part of a new Bournemouth-Poole conurbation rather than some arrangement with rural Dorset
We then considered which financial factors were most important.
Clearly, the need to eliminate those funding gaps that exist in most of Dorset’s Councils, (particularly those in Bournemouth and Poole) and the pace at which that can be achieved.
The one-off costs incurred in converting from where we are today to where we would like to be by say 2020-21.
Offsetting those costs by making the relatively easy to achieve initial savings by reducing the numbers of staff and councillors - we think that significant longer term savings are achievable but will require more thought and more development costs.
We looked at the need to harmonize Council Tax within tax bands. At the moment the owner of a band D property in Poole pays £196 a year less than one in Christchurch. This harmonization can only be prudently done by increasing the levels of Poole and Bournemouth up to the level of Christchurch.
The Government imposed 3.99% capping rule on Council Tax increases means that this process will have to be spread over several years and can only be accomplished by Christchurch residents paying slightly smaller increases than other residents
Overall, we concluded that: a structure embracing Bournemouth + Poole + Christchurch is financially superior to Bournemouth + Poole alone and better for Christchurch residents than a rural combination - provided they obtain equitable treatment as against existing residents of Poole and Bournemouth.
We deduced that including Christchurch with rural areas such as North Dorset is the worst possible financial scenario for Christchurch residents.
Finally, including East Dorset makes little difference to us here in Christchurch and we are neutral on that topic.
If you want to read our analysis in full go to www.wcresidents.co.uk and click on latest updates. The paper is written in non-technical language and should appear on the website by Tuesday 30th August
Our analysis that we outline here has been independently verified.
At the same time as we were working on this Christchurch along with Bournemouth, Poole and all the other Councils in Dorset commissioned an organisation called Local Partnerships to conduct a more thorough, more detailed analysis than we could manage. We have studied their work and are pleased to see that their conclusions are very much in line with ours.
Whilst difficult to define most small towns have a sense of place that its inhabitants value. This is true of central Wimborne just as much as Christchurch.
This sense of place is we believe created by three main factors. The first is the physical characterisation of the locality through flower beds on roundabouts, river walks, children’s playgrounds, clean litter free public areas, and so on. We believe we must strive to ensure that under any new structure the provision and maintenance of such amenities remain a local responsibility.
The second is the willingness of the local population to form local organisations such as our Residents Associations. We believe such willingness to be independent of the structure of Local Government.
The third is continuity of environment over time. Christchurch has been around for a long time and has a strong heritage that is evidenced in the Priory and other historic buildings and such institutions as our museums. We do not believe these are affected by these latest proposals
In theory the delivery of many services is independent of where a worker is based. It doesn’t matter to a social worker dealing with an abused child where the local council head office is situated.
The maintenance of the roads is a capital intensive business that does not readily lend itself to small local operations. The amount of money available to fund these operations has been cut drastically over the last ten years making economies of scale a vital factor. What we can see scope for is a local budget to be spent on road markings, signage, etc.
Housing policy is something that lends itself to local control. It is the type of decision that should be taken as close to the area in question as is possible.
Planning is a hierarchical activity. The break lines between tiers of Government are a matter for negotiation but clearly in any structure there is scope for Christchurch to have some degree of control over local planning matters.
Christchurch is too small to survive on its own.
Bournemouth and Poole are both too small to be economically viable and have little choice but to merge.
Christchurch would be financially better placed merged with them rather than with rural Councils
Following a merger with Bournemouth and Poole future increases in our Council Tax will be slightly lower than in those two areas for some years to come.
There is no reason why Christchurch should lose its sense of place.
It should be possible to retain some local services in the new structure
We will continue to meet with David McIntosh, Chief Executive of Christchurch Council as this process unfolds and will report back to you on a regular basis as to what is happening
It’s time to have your say
Quotation from Chris Chope MP for Christchurch:
If any change is proposed, it should not be implemented unless or until it is approved by the people of Christchurch. I say this, not least, because none of this agenda was discussed with the public either prior to the last District Council elections or the 2015 General Election. The Conservative Party manifesto referred only to the possibility of devolving ‘far reaching powers over economic development, transport and social care to large cities which choose to have elected mayors’.
To express your views you need to complete the “Reshaping your Councils” questionnaire that you can find at a special website https://news.dorsetforyou.gov.uk/reshapingyourcouncils/ where you can do everything on-line
Note 1 - the website given in the official paperwork is incorrect
Note 2 – the website given above only becomes fully functional on Tuesday 30th August 2016
Note 3 - your deadline for submission is 25th October 2016
The questionnaire poses four questions
The first asks to what extent you agree that Councils should reduce costs. In our opinion, it’s a slightly unsatisfactory question because the issues are productivity combined with quality and method of delivery of services – not just saving money. If you agree with us, you might like to say that in the “further comments” box at the end.
The second question asks if you agree with the proposal to replace 9 councils by 2. If you think some other structure would be better you can say so in the further comments box.
The third is an interesting question that explores you views on 5 things like local identity and democratic accountability. The weakness is that you can if you wish rank them all as equal top in priority and we’re not sure that will lead to very helpful results.
Lastly you are asked whether you think Christchurch should stay with West Dorset and all the rest of the rural councils or if you favour an urban solution. You also get a chance to say if you think East Dorset should be with Christchurch.
The questionnaire is accompanied by a guide that is well written and presents a complex matter in an understandable way.
Most of the sums of money quoted are estimates although the guide doesn’t make that particularly clear. We don’t see that as overly important because our own analysis shows that the conclusions that are reached are sound.
In particular, the “leave things as they are” option that we have not previously mentioned is in our view a non-starter. Both we and Local Partnerships conclude in our analysis that it makes no financial sense at all. It also misses the opportunity to get rid of some dead wood and in the longer term to organise local services in a better more productive way
If you have any problems answering the questions, you can contact WCRA by simply replying to this e-mail and we’ll do our best to help you.