British local government has a long and vigorous history. charters for local self government in major towns date back to the twelfth century. (Poole - 1248, Weymouth - 1252, Shaftesbury - 1191, 1260 and 1392). Another level of local government began to develop, based on the ecclesiastical parish, after the introduction of the Poor Law at the start of the seventeenth century which made parishes responsible for the maintenance of their poor. This provision was financed through a levy based on the estimated rental of real estate.

Both these types of local government were reformed in the 1830s. Administrative reform in the Victorian period added to the functions of existing authorities. Local authorities were given new responsibilities for the welfare of their communities, being required to develop services in the areas of public and environmental health and trading standards. They also began to acquire responsibility for policing, highways and the provision of public utilities such as gas, water and electricity.

In 1844, the parish of Holwell, an island of Somerset territory surrounded by Dorset, was transferred to Dorset.

Meanwhile, the growing requirements placed upon local government led to the creation of new types of authority, Dorset County Council was founded in 1889, along with other English counties, as a result of parliament passing the Local Government Act (1888). Services provided at that time were fewer than they are today, but included the Police, and maintenance of public roads and bridges.

Some of these were authorities created for a single purpose, such as school boards. Education, the largest service now provided by the County Council, was under the control of local 'boards' until 1902 when it became a County responsibility and national standards were adopted.

In 1896, the parishes of Goathill, Poyntington, Sandford Orcas, Seaborough, and Trent were transferred to from Somerset to Dorset, and Wambrook was transferred from Dorset to Somerset.

Other areas of responsibility have been added over the years. From 1919 County Councils were able to provide Library Services, Weights and Measures became a County Council responsibility in 1936 - the service has evolved to become Trading Standards. In 1948, a Children Act made the protection of children and young people a County Council responsibility. The Fire Brigade was also added in 1948.

It was decided, in 1948 in the case of gas and electricity and 1972 in the case of water, that the Utilities would be better organised on a national and regional basis (and they have been privatised in England and Wales during the 1980s), local government has continued to acquire other new functions, such as housing and land use planning, during the course of the twentieth century.

This structure was most comprehensively reworked in the Local Government Act 1972. This reorganisation created a system consisting essentially of two principal tiers. The largest units of local government were now the county councils. Within the geographical area they covered were district councils. Each county contains a number of these district councils, the services being provided by whichever level of local government is most appropriate.

In 1984, the County of Dorset was expanded to include Bournemouth, which had until then run its own services, and Christchurch which was transferred from Hampshire to Dorset. This gave Dorset its current Local Government structure of 1 County and 8 District Councils.

In 1995, the Police Force became a separate unit with its own 'Authority' to decide policy. The Fire brigade also became separate in 1997.

There is a further tier of local government below the level of the district councils in the form of parish councils. Parish councils with certain limited responsibilities were established in 1894. They were largely unaffected by the 1974 reorganisation. At the same time some small towns lost their former status as boroughs or urban districts through their incorporation in larger districts. They were, however, allowed to retain town councils as a subordinate layer of local government, each covering a single parish or group of parishes with powers analogous to those of the parish councils. There may be a number of these subordinate bodies within the area covered by a single district council.

Parishes with populations below 200 are deemed too small to need a parish council. Their affairs are governed by a meeting of all local government electors living in the parish. All parishes must have parish meetings which these electors are entitled to attend. Where there is a parish council this meeting must take place at least once a year, where there is not, at least twice.

In 1991 the government decided that a re-examination of this structure was timely, and under the Local Government Act 1992 set up The Local Government Commission. The Commission's initial task was to look at the case for replacing the two-tier structure of county and district councils in shire England with a structure based on unitary authorities that would each be responsible for all local authority functions. The Commission completed the last of its county reviews in January 1995. Under these proposals the Borough councils of Poole and Bournemouth will become unitary authorities in April 1997, whilst the rest of the county retains its two tier structure. However for ceremonial purposes both Poole and Bournemouth are to be regarded as part of Dorset.

Contact Information

DCC Logo

Dorset County Council
County Hall,
Colliton Park,
Dorset. DT1 1XJ.

Tel: 01305 251000
Fax: 01305 224839
Minicom: 01305 267933

District Councils

Bournemouth Borough Council
Borough Town Hall,

Tel: 01202 552066
Fax: 01202 295429

Christchurch Borough Council
Civic Offices,
Bridge Street
BH23 1AZ

Tel: 01202 486321
Fax: 01202 482200

East Dorset District Council
Council Offices,
BH21 4HN

Tel: 01202 886201
Fax: 01202 841390

North Dorset District Council
Salisbury Road,
Blandford Forum
DT11 7LL

Tel: 01258 454111
Fax: 01258 480179

Poole Borough Council
Civic Centre,
BH15 2RU

Tel: 01202 633633
Fax: 01202 633706

Purbeck District Council
Westport House,
DT11 7LL

Tel: 01929 556561
Fax: 01929 552688

West Dorset District Council
Stratton House,
58/60 High West St,

Tel: 01305 251010
Fax: 01305 251481

Weymouth and Portland Borough Council
Municipal Offices,
North Quay,

Tel: 01305 761222
Fax: 01305 760971

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