Woolly plans are slammed by council critics

By Trevor Bevins - Local Democracy Reporter

14th Oct 2023 | Local News

Lib Deb Leader Nick Ireland
Lib Deb Leader Nick Ireland

DORSET proposals to work closer with neighbouring councils have been labelled woolly and lacking in detail by opposition councillors.

They say the proposals, announced in a news release, lack detail and are full of meaningless phrases and very few specific points.

Council leader Spencer Flower declined to say which councils he has been talking to when challenged at the October full council meeting, although Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole has already been named. He has promised further information, later, and says he believes any deals finally reached will be worthwhile.

Lib Dem leader Nick Ireland said the council statement on the devolution plans was littered with "a miasma of vagueness" with words such as 'could', 'perhaps, and 'potentially'.

"There is no specifics beyond saying that Dorset is speaking to unidentified unitary councils," said Cllr Ireland.

He said he feared that if Dorset was not careful it could end up doing deals with places like Swindon and Bath and North East Somerset, areas it had little in common with, and might end up simply adding yet another layer of bureaucracy.

"I can only imagine the bun fight between Wimborne, Wellington, Warminster and even Weston Super Mare," he said.

"None of this guarantees any money and it doesn't get rid of competitive bidding.. what is really needed is the ability to manage a single pot of money with maximum flexibility and without the intervention of government; proper funding which recognises that we are best placed to meet the needs of our residents."

Council Leader Spencer Flower.

Cllr Flower, during the meeting, admitted that poor Government funding for Dorset was not a new thing. He said it had gone on for decades, despite his attempts to lobby for a better deal for the county and that by working with other councils, in some areas, the situation might improve.

The council leader found his proposals being queried by his own side. Conservative councillor for Preston and Littlemoor, Louie O'Leary, said he was concerned about the vagueness around the proposals.

"Anything we do should be member-led and not handed over to board of appointees and folks which are dragged in from various quangoes … can we be assured that democracy, direct democracy and and accountability are at the heart of it," he said.

Green group leader Cllr Clare Sutton said she had a strong feeling the paper had been written to fill a sparse agenda – the meeting seeing a surprising number of absent councillors, almost a quarter not present.

She said that with a new Government on its way soon the council ought to be cautious about the level of resources and energy  it was putting into the idea of working with other authorities.

Sherborne rural councillor Robin Legg said he genuinely failed to understand what some of the phrases in the news release meant, such as "innovative front runner model", and questioned whether any deal with other councils would lead to a loss of local accountability.

One of the authors of the report, Cabinet member Cllr Simon Gibson, said he acknowledged the comments about vagueness in the document but said there was a need for Dorset Council to enter negotiations in an open-minded way.

"As responsible leadership we have to take opportunities which exist today," he said, adding that he was sure councillors would be happy with the final outcome.

Despite the criticism the meeting voted 57-6 to back the continuing negotiations, Cllr Flower, promising "full member briefings" as the talks progressed.


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