Since my last blog we’ve had the momentous news from the government giving the green light to plans to create two new unitary councils in Dorset.
This is truly an historic moment for public services in Dorset – it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to protect frontline services, champion the area nationally and to improve the quality of life and access to opportunity for people for Poole, Bournemouth and Christchurch.
I am pleased the Secretary of State Sajid Javid has approved the Future Dorset proposal. In doing so, he has opened the door of opportunity for Poole, recognising the major benefits the plans will bring for our residents.
We already have ambitious plans for the regeneration of Poole. Having a single council for the area means we will have more influence nationally to access the funds we need to achieve our aspirations. It will also make Poole an even more attractive location for business investment, and build on our town’s unique maritime history and cultural offer.
I know local councillors are committed to achieving the very best future for our residents and businesses. Our priority now is to work together with colleagues from Bournemouth and Christchurch to ensure our communities receive the services they expect and deserve.
In the meantime, we continue to have a sovereign council serving Poole residents and we recently set our budget for local services for the next 12 months. Further reductions in government funding and increasing demand for services mean we have had to take difficult decisions, including raising Council Tax for only the third time in eight years. Nevertheless, Council Tax bills in Poole will remain the lowest in Dorset, and we continue to prioritise our spending where it matters most – caring for the most vulnerable members of our community and protecting frontline services as much as we possibly can.
Councillors have been able to set a balanced budget – a significant achievement given that we have to manage a further £3.6 million reduction in annual government funding to Poole. This means Poole now receives £33 million a year less in government funding compared to than it did in 2010/11. However, through careful management of our resources and being even more efficient, we will manage to invest an additional £3 million for social care services this year and provide an extra £200,000 for homelessness services.
The reduction in central government funding means we need to bid for alternative sources of income and to date we’ve secured more than £60 million for specific projects. These will support our plans to regenerate the town centre, fund improvements to our cherished parks and open spaces, and provide much-needed investment in our roads over the next few years.
Finally, I would like to pay tribute to the council staff who worked hard to maintain services during the snow and ice we’ve experienced in the last couple of weeks. Many worked around the clock in challenging conditions to grit roads, keep residents safe and provide care support to the frail and vulnerable. A sterling job was done by all involved – let’s hope we have seen the back of winter and can start to forward to some warmer spring weather soon!
Thank you for reading.