THE new leader of BCP Council has said she wants to overhaul the “secretive” approach taken by its predecessor authorities.
Cllr Vikki Slade said that running one of the largest councils in the country was a “daunting” prospect, but all the alliance members forming the new administration were “committed” to doing the best for the public, she told Josh Wright of the Local Democracy Reporting Service.
BCP Council came into being in April following the merger of Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole councils in a bid to save local authorities in Dorset over £100m in the coming years.
All three councils were controlled by Conservatives but the 2nd May elections saw the party narrowly fail to win a majority.
Instead a coalition of Liberal Democrat, Christchurch Independent, Poole People, Labour, Green and independent councillors was formed.
Cllr Slade, a Liberal Democrat, was comfortably re-elected in her Broadstone ward, securing the largest majority of any of the 76 councillors.
She said the level of support she received from voters was “humbling” and that the results of the elections showed there was “a clear appetite for change” from the public.
The new cabinet includes two first-time councillors and represents the spectrum of political views of members of the new coalition, which Cllr Slade said made it a more effective council.
“People didn’t feel good about their councils,” she said. “That showed in the elections – people voted for something different.
“The fact that we have got a wide range of views in the alliance gives us energy and forces us to consider views from across the conurbation.
“Having all those views means that when you make a decision you have already considered lots of alternatives and that leads to better decision-making.”
She said there was “a real willingness to learn” and that councillors were committing “huge amounts of time” to getting to grips with the way the three former councils had worked and what areas need focusing on.
“It’s not just the headline projects, it’s the pay scales, it’s the contracts which all differ across the three towns,” she said.
“All these things we need to take a careful look at before we decide our way forward.”
The new administration has promised to put the environment at the top of its agenda, and said other priorities would emerge in the coming months as they get to grips with running the 12th-largest unitary authority in the country.
Cllr Slade said she welcomed the opposition Conservative groups had already given to its work but asked for it to be done “constructively”.
“Having been an opposition councillor for so many years I’m fully aware of how a strong opposition can make a council work better,” she said.
“But opposition needs to be constructive and not grandstanding or political point-scoring.”
The new council has promised to be “open and transparent” and Cllr Slade said the possibility of introducing citizens’ assemblies and area committees to better engage with the public were being considered.
“People are frustrated,” she added. “They want to see more collaborative working and putting the community first.
“We have got to make sure that communities can engage with the council and with councillors.
“We are hoping to consult on more things – but doing it before having decided on the outcome, which was the case a lot of time in the old councils.”
Despite the pressures of running a council, and admitting to having spent “an enormous amount of time” working from offices in the three towns, Cllr Slade said she would remain the Liberal Democrats’ parliamentary candidate for Mid-Dorset and North Poole.
However, she said she was “torn” over whether she would like to see a general election held in the coming months.
“Understandably I’m spending a lot of time working at the council, particularly at the moment.
“On the other hand, this could be the best opportunity to achieve something I’ve been working on for the last 10 years.”
She added: “Importantly, I need to add in my family – being a mum-of-four requires a lot of work and that’s not something I will sacrifice.
“But being the council leader is an amazing opportunity and it’s one I want to grab with both hands.”