I start this report with an important event which came at the end of the month namely the Secretary of State’s agreement on the 26th February that the nine Councils of rural Dorset could become one General Purpose Authority, otherwise a Unitary Council to be be called Dorset Council, as from 1st April 2019. Work is already well underway with the necessary processes to bring 9 councils into 1 but obviously the pace will now increase to meet the deadline. Parish and Towns are currently represented in the process by the DAPTC. I find myself on the Service Integration Task and Finish Group which is part of the merger process.
On the 2nd February the Youth Parliament elections took place to select two Youth Parliament Representatives for Dorset and two Deputies. The two Youth Parliament Representatives elected were both from the north of the County with Laurence Hayward from Sturminster Newton High School topping the poll along with Rory Baird of Gryphon School. I hope to meet Laurence shortly and have offered him the opportunity of shadowing me for a day - which may put him off of politics completely.
The month began with two surgeries, one in Pulham as part of their bi-monthly coffee mornings and one in The Exchange. I have now stopped doing surgeries in Glanvilles Wootton and Hazelbury Bryan as no-one in those villages ever came, so I am now going out to the residents and knocking on doors for the same around of time that I would have spent on a surgery. The major issue in Pulham continues to be the residents conflict with Stonewater Housing Association over their malfunctioning reed bed. In Hazelbury Bryan residents continue to challenge the proposed building of a mobile phone mast, although my door knocking that weekend was aimed at finding more about the rat problem in part of the village. In Glanvilles Wootton the combined efforts of the Parish Meeting Chairman and the Highways team have led to the building of a parking space for a disabled resident by their housing association, which may seem like a small triumph but is important to the village for removing a parking hazard, and for the resident.
As Chairman of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee for Safeguarding at DCC I attended a post-meeting evaluation and planning session. Our particular concerns continue to be around domestic abuse, especially that of the elderly by carers as this is not as closely monitored as is child abuse. We are also beginning to look at the issue of elective home education which in some cases works extremely well, but which may also be used as an alternative to children being excluded from school, or could lead to children dropping below the radar completely and being at risk of abuse or radicalism. There is no power for a local authority to monitor what happens to such children who are not in school nor to question what education they are actually receiving. Another issue which may come to my committee or may go to People and Communities is that of the considerable difficulties faced by those voluntary youth club committees who have tried to replace the work of the Youth Centres. I also sit on the Special Educational Needs Delivery (SEND) Group which meets monthly to oversee the delivery of the SEND services, which have been struggling, especially as far as the production of Education, Health and Care Assessments are concerned. Finally, I Member of the pan-Dorset Community Safety and Criminal Justice Board which meets quarterly, including during February.
Preventative work is vital to the County Council achieving its aims to reduce expenditure on family and social care. I attended a presentation on “Prevention at scale” which is basically about using the statistical data available showing areas of deprivation or poor health in order to target resources appropriately. I also attended the DCC Live Well, Live Better presentation outside of The Exchange on the 5th February, which aims to encourage us all to plan well ahead for a healthy and comfortable age. All County Councillors are being urged to attend on going training as part of our Corporate Parenting responsibilities to ensure we are effective corporate parents, the key question being “would I want this for my child”. I have also attended updating sessions on the new dorsetforyou website and a workshop on the new operating and strategic oversight model for the County Council.
I seem to be collecting Trusteeships and Committees and during February attended a Nordcat Board, a North Dorset Trailway Board Meeting, a Dorset Community Action Board Meeting, a Sturminster Youth Club Meeting, Friends of the Library Committee Meeting and continue to be heavily involved as Chairman of the Dorset Race Equality Council which currently means spending at least half a day a fortnight going down to Boscombe and back. I also spoke at the Newton Residents Annual General Meeting.
Both the County Council and District Council have met to approve their budgets for 2018-9 and have increased their precepts to the maximum allowed. In the case of the County Council this still required considerable savings in the big spenders of Highways, Children's Services and Adult Care. Changes in practice are being made to ensure that those savings do not lead to a reduction in service, for example recruiting more foster carers in Dorset to reduce the need for paying specialist agency foster parents who are more expensive, increasing the skills of , and recruiting more, social workers to work with troubled families on smaller caseloads with the aim of reducing the numbers of children coming into care. A day workshop on Integrated Transport provision was held on 26th February which aims to balance the needs of users of public transport in its various kinds including community transport, with a more efficient use of the money available. There are some very interesting possibilities for improvement, particularly through greater cooperation between the County Council and the NHS in all its forms.
With best wishes
Cllr. Pauline Batstone,