THE new leader of BCP Council has said she wants to overhaul the “secretive” approach taken by its preceding councils.

In an interview with the Local Democracy Reporting Service, Cllr Vikki Slade said that running one of the largest councils in the country was a “daunting” prospect.

But she said all ‘Unity Alliance’ councillors forming the new administration were “committed” to doing the best for the public.

BCP Council came into being in April the outcome of the merger of Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole councils in a bid to save local authorities in Dorset over £100 million in the coming years.

All three councils were controlled by Conservatives but the May 2 elections saw the party narrowly lose its majority.

Instead a coalition of Liberal Democrat, Christchurch Independent, Poole People, Labour, Green and independent councillors was formed.

Cllr Slade (Liberal Democrat, Broadstone) was comfortably re-elected in her ward, securing the largest majority of any of the 76 councillors.

The Poole councillor said the level of support she received from voters was “humbling” and that the results of the elections showed there was “a clear appetite for change” from the public.

“The council in Poole stopped talking to people a long time ago,” she said. “That was most evident in the closure of the toilets and that is why we knew reopening them had to be one of our first priorities.”

At its first meeting earlier this month, £493,000 was allocated to the refurbishment and reopening of public toilets blocks in Poole.

Appointed in May, the new cabinet includes two new councillors and represents the spectrum of political views of members of the new coalition.

Half a dozen groups, with the largest being the Liberal Democrats, makes up the new coalition, but Cllr Slade said the range of views made it a more effective council.

“People didn’t feel good about their councils,” she said. “That showed in the elections, people voted for something different.

“The fact that we have got a wide range of views in the alliance gives us energy and forces us to consider views from across the conurbation.

“Having all those views means that when you make a decision you have already considered lots of alternatives and that leads to better decision-making.”

She said there was “a real willingness to learn” and that councillors were committing “huge amounts of time” to getting to grips with the way the three former councils had worked and what areas need focusing on.

“It’s not just the headline projects, it’s the payscales, it’s the contracts which all differ across the three towns,” she said.

“All these things we need to take a careful look at before we decide our way forward.”

The new administration has promised to put the environment at the top of its agenda and said other priorities would emerge in the coming months as they get to grips with running the 12th-largest unitary authority in the country.

Cllr Slade said she welcomed the opposition Conservative groups had already given to its work but asked for it to be done “constructively”.

“Having been an opposition councillor for so many years I’m fully aware of how a strong opposition can make a council work better,” she said.

“But opposition needs to be constructive and not grandstanding or political point-scoring.”

The new council has promised to be “open and transparent” and Cllr Slade said the possibility of introducing citizens’ assemblies and area committees to better engage with the public were being considered.

Last year she backed calls for the formation of town councils to be explored as a better way of representing local voices.

She said this was still on the table but said she thought changes to the way the council works could achieve the same outcomes.

“People are frustrated,” she said. “They want to see more collaborative working and putting the community first.

“What we have got to make sure that communities can engage with the council and with councillors.

“We are hoping to consult on more things but doing it before having decided on the outcome, which was the case a lot of time in the old councils.”

Despite the pressures of running a council, and admitting to having spent “an enormous amount of time” working from offices in the three towns, Cllr Slade said she would remain the Liberal Democrats’ parliamentary candidate for Mid Dorset and North Poole.

However, she said she was “torn” over whether she would like to see a general election held in the coming months.

“Understandably I’m spending a lot of time working at the council, particularly at the moment,” she said.

“On the other hand this could be the best opportunity to achieve something I’ve been working for for the last 10 years.

“But importantly I need to add in my family, being a mum-of-four requires a lot of work and that’s not something I will sacrifice.

“But being the council leader is an amazing opportunity and it’s one I want to grab with both hands.”