In February 2018 the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid MP, announced his decision to approve the proposal to create two new unitary authorities for Dorset, replacing the existing nine councils.
From 1 April 2019, Dorset Council will bring together five district and borough councils (East Dorset, North Dorset, Purbeck, West Dorset and Weymouth & Portland) as well as Dorset County Council, to provide high quality, efficient services for around 375,000 Dorset residents.
As a new unitary authority, Dorset Council will be responsible for a wide range of council services across the area, including education, highways, transport planning, passenger transport, social care, housing, libraries, leisure and recreation, environmental health, planning applications, strategic planning and local taxation collection.
Dorset Council will achieve a vast range of benefits for Dorset and its residents, including a modern and diverse county economy, growth in existing and new sectors, improved digital connectivity, and accessible and modern public services.
Read Matt Prosser’s editorial taken in the MJ:
If you were creating a new council, what kind of organisation would you create?
For those who join Dorset Council in the next few months it will be anything but a hypothetical question.
It’s one of two councils that will be officially launched next April as part of the biggest shake up in local government in 10 years. The new organisation will take responsibility for a huge swathe of Dorset currently served by the county council and five districts – East Dorset, North Dorset, Purbeck, West Dorset and Weymouth & Portland.
Together they cater for a growing population that stands at around 376,000 people spread across coastal and market towns, rural communities and some of the UK’s finest natural landscapes.
Matt Prosser, Dorset Council’s chief executive designate, took up the post this month. He’s no stranger to the county having spent the last four years as chief executive of Councils Partnership – a single workforce serving three of the districts.
He has also played a key role in bringing Dorset’s reorganisation plans forward and is understandably excited about the future.
‘Someone said to me recently, there are very few chief executives who get the chance to create a new council,’ he says. ‘It’s true. I’m one of the select few who has that privilege and that’s a really exciting opportunity for myself and others around me.’
His last comment is particularly pertinent as he and the local authority’s shadow authority embark on recruiting the five directors who will make up Dorset Council’s first senior leadership team.
‘We’re very much emphasising a team approach and so this will be a rare opportunity for the whole senior leadership team to create a brand new culture for the organisation,’ he explains.
One of the key arguments in favour of creating two new unitary authorities in Dorset was the financial stability and efficiency gains it will bring.
But more importantly, the move – backed by 75% of elected members – offers a chance to create modern, innovative councils that are better able to respond to changing demands, says Matt.
‘It’s also about having greater collective ambition for the area with a collective voice on the regional and national stage. It’s a beautiful place to live, work and visit and we want to maintain that. We want to learn from each other in the six councils but also look for new ideas as well so we’re a council that’s fit for the 21st century.’
The executive director for corporate development will be responsible for the ‘heartbeat corporate services’ – finance, IT, HR and OD – that form the organisation’s backbone and enable fellow directors to achieve their goals.
They will have the challenge of integrating the six councils’ different systems while also overseeing digital transformation. Matt, who also has a national role as Solace’s spokesperson for digital leadership, is keen to put technology at the heart of the new organisation. ‘Our combined scale gives us real opportunities around this,’ he says.
The executive directors for children’s services and adult’s will be expected to strive for excellence across a patch that presents a variety of challenges. As a popular destination for retirees, Dorset has an ageing and often affluent population but also communities with deprivation and complex needs.
One of the new council’s priorities will be raising ambitions and aspirations for young people and ensuring they can access the services they need in terms of education, training and employment. This links in with the key responsibilities for the executive directors of place and people, Matt explains.
Dorset has the UK’s fastest growing digital industries sector and it forms part of an increasingly diverse local economy.
‘We have just had a company in Weymouth bring in 25-30 graduates from outside the area. We have lots people coming in and investing in the area and we want our young people to feel they can stay here.’
The corporate director for legal & democratic can expect a busy start to their career at Dorset Council with the first elections being held a month after launch when the current 206 councillors will be reduced to 82.
‘There will be a big focus on modernisation around digital support for councillors. Councillors are keen for us to be member-led but governance light so that we can be a fast paced organisation without compromising important democratic processes.’
The senior leadership team will need to be similarly agile, he says.
‘We’re looking for creative people who can collaborate with each other, support fellow directors and really shape the culture. It’s a brand new organisation and an exciting opportunity for people to come together and create the council of the future.’
Interviews with the MJ and Matt Prosser