Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Who will be running who in proposed three-council partnership?

IT’S a bit like buses, isn’t it? For years you get used to one council and then three come along.

We’ve all had to cope with Weymouth and Portland being taken over by West Dorset in a so called “partnership” of working practices with a council based in a town of 18,000 people ludicrously holding the whip hand over a council in a town with 60,000 people.

Now it appears that North Dorset could be joining the party to create a three-way approach to providing key services.

This must seriously concern Weymouth and Portland and particularly West Dorset since if Dorchester can somehow boss Weymouth then what chance does the county town stand of preventing Blandford – which only has a population of about 11,000 – becoming top dog in the partnership.

And while we’re talking of tails wagging dogs, all three of them had better watch out if Purbeck joins the show to make a fourth council because I’ve heard that Coombe Keynes – population 79 – is a hot candidate to rule us all.

The one thing this whole process has perfectly illustrated is that the very last people you want in charge of a political situation are politicians.

Just because Dorchester has historic county town status does not entitle West Dorset to lord it over Weymouth and Portland in the manner that it has.

Now I’m absolutely positive that those in partnership power will say this is not the case and that it is an even handed partnership.

Well, if that is the case, then the partnership is giving a brilliant impression that West Dorset is where the powerbase is.

Not only has the partnership decimated Weymouth and Portland’s council structure but, of three hot favourites for relocated staff once North Quay is sold off, one is at the Mulberry Centre in Weymouth but the other two are at Crookhill Depot in Chickerell and South Walks House in Dorchester… and they’re both in West Dorset. Weymouth may own the depot but the land is under West Dorset’s control.

Even the shared services joint advisory committee – three West Dorset and three Weymouth and Portland councillors – is testing the water for “some decision making powers in respect of joint functions for the partnership”, notably “where both councils cannot reach initial agreement on service levels”.

That approach is qualified by a promise that recommendations would go to Weymouth and Portland’s management committee and West Dorset’s executive committee, but it is still quite clear that God is on the side of the Big Guns backing partnership working which has its main roots in Dorchester not Weymouth.

Finally there is the fact that this so called partnership is almost incredibly starting to affect some aspects of the official flow of information coming out of its joint communications department.

Only the other day I was sent a press release whose key point was that Weymouth and Portland was now being taken on board a certain initiative.

Common sense dictated that, if this was the case, then any quote provided should clearly come from a Weymouth and Portland spokesman since that was the new angle for the initiative, but it didn’t. The quote came from a West Dorset spokesman.

There are many other niggles which pose serious questions such as the balance of the partnership.

West Dorset staff ended up with the lion’s share of key positions during the shake-up for the partnership and West Dorset is certainly central to much of the process of council transition in Weymouth and Portland where almost its entire planning department is now based in Dorchester.

Again this will be denied by the partnership, but I have been a local journalist for nearly 40 years, most of them in Weymouth and Portland, and my extensive contacts at councillor level, officer level, worker level and union level are not happy at a growing perception that they are increasingly dancing to West Dorset’s tune.

At the end of the day this is a partnership looking after an awful lot of lives and those people need to have confidence that their interests in their area are coming first and they are not playing poor relative to their neighbours.

To stand up for Weymouth and Portland requires councillors to take a tougher stance in defence of their territory before they don’t have a territory to defend. Some tell me they are already doing this by speaking out in committees to highlight their concerns. More need to do so.

Bargain sales are not always bargains

THREE months of the year have gone already and we have yet to enjoy a week without a sale.

Spring sales in winter, summer sales in Spring, autumn sales in summer and winter sales in autumn carve the year up nicely.

Then there are the “Closing Down!” sales for stores that aren’t, the “Bargain Sale” which isn’t and the “Unrepeatable Offer!” sales which will be.

And, if there are any gaps in the year, then we have the “For One Day Only” sales which must end the day after tomorrow.

Every trick in the retail book is used to attract customers, never more so than now when the economy is trying to get off its knees.

So I will remind you that there are bargains and bargains. Just make sure your choice really is value for money.

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