by Ian Girling, chief executive, Dorset Chamber of Commerce and Industry

EARLIER this year, the local authorities for Dorset, Poole, Bournemouth, Weymouth and Portland, West Dorset and North Dorset jointly submitted the Future Dorset proposal to the Sajid Javid, secretary of state for communities and local government. The proposal formally outlines a joint request to replace the nine existing local authorities in Dorset with two new unitary authorities, one covering rural Dorset and the other covering the urban area of South East Dorset. Six of the nine local authorities in Dorset supported the proposal, as did all of our MPs and a range of key organisations including from a business perspective the Dorset Local Enterprise Partnership and Dorset Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

This is an ambitious and radical proposal to save costs, streamline services and develop a more cohesive and integrated structure for planning and infrastructure for the whole of the county. Local authorities continue to face significant financial pressure as they experience ongoing reductions in government funding and increasing costs, particularly in the area of adult and social care. These financial pressures will continue as the government implements ongoing austerity measures to reduce the deficit and doing nothing is not a realistic option. It’s estimated this proposal will save £108million within six years. It will also provide a solid and stronger platform for the development policies on housing, education and skills for Dorset, all critical issues for our county.

We have supported consultation with the business community and help ensure the business voice is heard. Our experience has told us the vast majority of businesses support these proposals. Businesses can see the cost efficiencies this will bring in terms of reduction of duplicate services within local authorities and the opportunity to provide a more consistent and streamlined approach to areas such as planning, economic development and infrastructure.

Of course there are understandable concerns that need to be taken in to consideration. Many are concerned at the reserves of certain local authorities disappearing as well as worries about the loss of the identity of towns, particularly in the urban area of South East Dorset. It’s essential these concerns are understood and the implementation of the re-organisation, should it go ahead, takes these issues in to consideration.

As mentioned, our experience is this proposal has overwhelming support from the business community and this is why Dorset Chamber of Commerce and Industry backs this proposal. We believe this would make us a stronger county, creating a modern and powerful local authority for rural Dorset, supporting growth in key sectors, as well as a far stronger authority for the large urban area of Bournemouth and Poole and surrounding area, home to over 400,000 people, essentially a city by the sea. Two unitary authorities for Dorset will also place us firmly on the national and internal map, providing opportunities for increased inward investment and attracting government funding.

Sajid Javid has already indicated he is ‘minded’ to support the proposals and a decision will be made early in the new year, following further consultation. The support of the business community is important and we urge businesses to write to the Secretary of State with your views. We encourage businesses across Dorset to have your say and the address is: Rt Hon Sajid Javid, Department for Communities and Local Government, 2 Marsham Street, London SW1P 4DF.