April, May and June were dominated by the two elections – the County Council election which probably was not noticed by so many people and the General Election which definitely was. In the meantime, life as a County and District Councillor went on with meetings and casework to deal with, whilst leaflets had to be delivered, social media contributed to and posters put up. I am grateful to all those who turned out to vote, whether they voted for me or not, because that is what our democratic system depends on. Those not involved in elections presume the candidates must be enemies, but in practice in this County election two of my opponents were my friends and the other I have now got to know. I pledge to continue to work for all those in the County Division of Blackmore Vale regardless of their political allegiance or none.
The General Election delayed any government decision on whether the District and County Councils merge to become a Unitary Authority. We had expected to hear several months ago whether or not the Secretary of State was minded to support our application to merge and put the necessary legislation before Parliament. However we now have have to wait until the autumn before we know whether there will be a Unitary Authority, a combined Council of West and North Dorset District Council’s and Weymouth and Portland Borough Council, or whether we continue as we are now, i.e. with a County Council completely separate from the Dorset Council’s Partnership.
This uncertainty does make planning, particularly budgeting, very difficult. What we do know is that we have to continue to pursue economies of scale in order to live within our means, which are diminishing all the while. In particular the government are withdrawing routine support grants from Councils over the next couple of years but saying that Councils will keep 100% of the business rate. That sounds very reasonable except that it means the money from business rate, which is set by central government, continues to be spread over Councils across the country to the most needy areas We in North Dorset do not qualify as “most needy”. We also do not raise a lot of money from business rate and are in what is called “the safety net” which guarantees us a certain level of income but we struggle will to get out of it. Our particular problem was when the Army at Blandford Camp were classified as an educational institution and no longer paid the full business rate. Our North Dorset businesses, and there are around 9,000 of them, tend in the majority, to be small businesses, often one person working from home, so they do not pay business rate.
As a Councillor, from time to time I get dissatisfied residents complaining that they do not get their money’s worth from the Council tax they pay. In particular the complaint is that we do not get the services in the rural area which people in towns get. The counter to that is it costs more to deliver services in a rural area and in any case more often the services we pay for are not those we are using at that particular time but may need in future, for example elderly care, or preventative services which operate below our awareness most of the time. As has been well publicised, the biggest expenditure for the County Council is the growing social care budget.
One example of a difficult service to provide in a rural area is the transport service. The bus services for Dorset have been subject to the routine three yearly re-tendering of the contracts. The information about this is available on dorsetforyou and by telephone from County Hall. There have been changes of providers, but the commitment of the County Council is to ensure the routes between the market towns and services should continue as now. The one service which appears to have gone in Blackmore Vale is the 307 as from and discussions are taking place about how the needs of residents who use that service can be met in other ways. The new providers take over on 24th July.
In my June Report I wrote of the intended closure of Lloyds Bank in Sturminster, the last bank to have a permanent base there. Discussions continue with the intention of Lloyds to provide a mobile bank on three days of the week for an hour or more. The mobile bank will park in the Library Carpark. Meanwhile NatWest also provide a mobile service between 2.00 p.m. and 3.00 p.m. Friday in the Station Road car park. We are also negotiating for the provision of cash machines in the market place to replace the ones lost when the banks closed. There are classes being run in The Exchange Learning Centre for those who want help to set up and understand on-line banking.
Surgeries in July:
Saturday 1st July 9.30 a.m. – Glanvilles Wootton Village Hall; 10.30 a.m. Pulham Village Hall; 11.30 The Exchange, Sturminster Newton.
Saturday, – 15th July 9.30 a.m. Hazelbury Bryan Village Hall; 10.45 a.m. Okeford Fitzpaine Village Hall
Preferred e.mail address – email@example.com
Phone 01258 472583
Post – Elvlyn Cottage, Glue Hill, Sturminster Newton, Dorset, DT10 2DJ
Twitter @paulinebatstone Facebook Page Councillor Pauline Batstone