Marlies Koutstaal, Cratus Southampton Director
It has been just over a year since the inaugural elections to the brand new Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council on the south coast. Following the public’s verdict of No Overall Control, Cratus stepped in to support the minority parties to form a coalition Administration.
So how is it doing?
What is clear is that this is a council with a Leader, Cabinet and Senior Officer team that really mean business. The formation of BCP Council represents the biggest reorganisation of local government in the UK for 35 years. It was never going to be smooth sailing or straightforward. In fact it could have led to stagnation and been destabilising. However, under the leadership of Cllr Vikki Slade and experienced CEO Graham Farrant, the Council is in great shape and showing real ambition.
In May 2019, Cratus supported the different political groups to agree a set of principles that would govern their decision-making as an administration, a series of policies they would pursue, and cabinet portfolios to align with established officer departments. During this time, the administration has engaged on an agenda to bring the Council closer to its communities in a more connected way, they have taken brave and bold decisions on strategic and commercial acquisitions, and they have led the way in promoting sustainable transport and energy solutions.
It is true to say that dealing with BCP Council is now a very different beast to what it was like to deal with the individual authorities before the merger, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. The Cabinet Members are enthusiastic, ambitious and their door is open to new ideas about how the conurbation should take shape. There is a clear demarcation away from the “City by the Sea” view promoted by the last Bournemouth Council administration, as well as a strong recognition that Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole rely on tourism and the visitor economy. Therefore, the key strategic sites such as the Bournemouth International Centre (BIC) and Holes Bay in Poole must be regenerated if they are to compete with other regions.
Allied to this is a determination to adopt a new local plan in a far shorter time frame than the one set by Government. In other words, by 2022, rather than by 2024, the Council wants certainty over the sites being promoted for housing. And there is a huge value being placed on social and affordable housing as well as aspirational housing. The Administration has forged key relationships with local businesses and wants to see BCP businesses and their staff benefiting from BCP Council procurement chains.
Talk to the Leader of the Council and you don’t find a Leader who is bogged down in talk of “transformation” or back office processes. This is a Leader who wants to talk about community, regeneration, and the local economy. Her style has won her praise from Councillors from across the aisle and she is even set to take a more national profile on behalf of Unitary Councils all over England.
BCP Council is now the 12th largest authority in the UK. The opportunity is enormous; something not lost on the administration. As they move into their second year of administration, there is a calming confidence emerging from the Council that they are delivering on their plans, looking for partners to help them accelerate reforms and eager to show residents and the public that when it comes to the merger, the gamble has landed.
On 23rd July Cratus is hosting a webinar with Cllr Vikki Slade to talk about all things BCP where she will give her perspective on their fascinating journey. If you would like to join us, please register here.