The new Dorset Council has reached the starting block – but is in danger of falling at the first hurdle, according to some councillors.

At the inaugural meeting of the Shadow Dorset Council in Dorchester last night it was accused of not being inclusive, not keeping the public, or even its own members involved, and being run for 'the select few'.

Several councillors were critical of proposed meetings which are almost exclusively in the daytime and mainly in Dorchester.

They said that those who worked, or have caring responsibilities, would be excluded from meetings, unless they changed the timetable.

Cllr Sarah Burns called for the majority of meetings to be in the evenings.

She said: “As a single parent and someone who worked full time it is important to have a representative council of all ages and backgrounds.”

Weymouth Mayor, Cllr Gill Taylor, agreed. She said having evening meetings would encourage those who worked to stand as councilors and might encourage younger people to put up for election.

Weymouth councillor Christine James said she and others had also been snubbed by a 'task and finish' group – being told their services were not required, although this was later denied.

The claim was backed up by another Weymouth and Portland councillor, Kate Wheller, who said that despite her work on the local council reorganisation in 1974 she too was told her services were not needed, after just one meeting.

“We can read reports but we don't have any say in it...and that's galling. You should engage more and give us more confidence in it - you have to take us with you,” she said to a ripple of applause.

Said Cllr James: “We're not engaging with the public, they don't know what's going on...for the first time as a councillor I have felt out of the loop and not involved.”

She said that the consultation, so far, seemed to be for what she described as “the select few”.

“It reminds me of the cheese rolling competition in Gloucester – we're hurtling towards something and we don't know what it is.”

Bridport councillor Dave Rickard said he was disappointed that the idea of having local area boards, where people could have their say on community issues, had disappeared from the agenda completely.

John Parker from the Dorset Association of Parish and Town Councils asked for a member of his group to be involved in the process of change to one, single unitary council, and said he hoped the new unitary council would find innovative ways of working.

“Devolution of power will be of interest to all our communities, we should be involved in the design of services and help ease the implementation of change.”

Another public speaker, Richard Denton-White, called for radical change in the way councillors to the new authority were elected next spring – asking them to consider some form of proportional representation: “It will produce a genuinely representative council,” he said, claiming that the Conservative majority had already “stitched up” the new body.

Cllr Lucy Hamilton said the work of task and finish groups, which would shape the way the new council operates, should be shared with all councillors and members of the public.

Dorset county council leader Cllr Rebecca Knox said member (councillor} inclusion would be “absolutely paramount” in the lead up to the new council being created in April 2019, and there would be talks with partner organisations, including parish councils.

But she admitted: “There may not be public engagement.”

Said programme officer Keith Cheeseman: “We do not expect to have a public consultation exercise” although he promised to explore ways of making the work towards change more accessible to those with a direct interest.