CONSIDER this fact, revealed this morning in the Comprehensive Area Assessment of Dorset: Women in poorer parts of West Dorset live, on average, six years less than women in better-off parts of the district.
That is six years less to enjoy, for example, the pleasures of being with grandchildren – or having a nice bit of cake and a cup of tea in the WI café in Bridport on Saturday mornings – or playing short-mat bowls.
Is it fair that poor women should miss out on nearly 2,200 days of life compared with their wealthier counterparts?
Or is it just the way things are, the way things always have been and always will be?
People have to make their own minds up.
That’s the point of the Comprehensive Area Assessment of Dorset, published this morning. It’s a new kind of Government inspection that is supposed to tell people not just how an individual council is performing, but what an area is like to live in.
It is also meant to let people know how councils and other governmental bodies (like the police, and the fire and rescue service) are all working together to make a place better.
Local people, when they have digested all this information, are meant to hold local bodies to account and press for improvements. That’s the idea, anyway.
A word of warning: CAA reports are written in a simple style that is supposed to make them more accessible. Page after page is written in short sentences. Short sentences that are supposed to be easy to read. But these short sentences are all too alike. So these short sentences get on your nerves.
Nevertheless, there is a wealth of detail packed away in them.
Some interesting points
- Most jobs in Dorset are in the service sector, and over 90 per cent of firms have fewer than 25 staff.
- Dorset has more retired people than any other county.
- West Dorset is one of the most thinly populated parts of England. Its population is 97,200. Over half live in the towns – Beaminster, Bridport, Chickerell, Dorchester, Lyme Regis and Sherborne. The district’s population is expected to increase at a faster rate than other areas.
Some good points
- More people in Dorset than any other English county are satisfied with the local area as a place to live.
- Crime rates are generally low and falling.
- Dorset is the seventh best county at recycling.
- It’s the second best county at reducing the amount of waste going into landfill sites.
- Dorset has been given a Green Flag for its Partnership for Older People Projects, through which more than 23,000 older people are helped to support both themselves and their communities. A Green Flag means other areas could learn from what is happening here.
- More than 83 per cent of people in West Dorset say they have been treated with respect by their local public services, which is well above the national average.
Some bad points
- Wages are low and house prices are very high. That makes staying in Dorset more difficult for young people. Dorset overall has been given a Red Flag over housing quality and affordable housing. A Red Flag means action is needed.
- The number of young people who are not in education, employment or training has gone up.
- Dorset is not doing as well as many other parts of the country in improving road safety. The number of people being killed or seriously injured in road accidents is going down, but too slowly.
- Satisfaction with bus services is amongst the lowest in the country.
- Some local people in rural areas have serious problems getting the services they need.
Some talking points
From the organisational assessment of West Dorset District Council:
“House building has slowed down because of the recession. And big building schemes to make local towns attractive to people have not gone to plan. But the Council did well in deciding most people’s planning applications quickly and the quality of its decisions improved.”
Could there be a reference in here to the South West Quadrant scheme proposed for Bridport – or two? Is the SWQ scheme officially supposed to be making Bridport “attractive” to people? Or was turning it down – twice – a sign of improved quality decision- making? Probably not the latter, in the official mind; the main quality indicator is almost certainly the number and outcome of appeals. Though another section does state: “Local councillors are particularly strong at challenging decisions and considering different ways of doing things”.
From the organisational assessment of Dorset County Council:
“The Council worked well with its district council partners and others to help local people and businesses cope in the recession. A fund was set up to help, but this was not needed.”
Who decided it was “not needed”? What has happened to this fund now? West Dorset generally lags 12-18 months behind the rest of the country in recessions. I can’t name them – it wouldn’t be fair – but I can think of several retailers who’ve only recently been hit by bad unpaid debts. So a later assessor’s remark may be truer:
“The Council knows that worse may yet to be come…”