An increasing number of Dorset councillors are voting with their feet and not attending meetings – with local government changes only six months away.

Some are complaining that they’ve been left out of the process and not consulted as a handful of councillors make all the key decisions.

But a member of the shadow cabinet, dominated by Conservatives, says that with so much work to do – and so little time to do it – they just have to press on.

Shadow Cabinet member Graham Carr-Jones, who is also the leader of North Dorset District Council, says that backbench councillors are being offered the chance to participate but need to get themselves organised to do it.

Cllr Carr-Jones, the shadow cabinet brief holder for access and engagement, says regular briefings are sent out to all councillors and there is a standing invitation to attend any shadow authority meeting – but many are choosing not to do so.

He told a meeting of the shadow overview and scrutiny committee in Dorchester that out of 176 members of the full shadow council only 43 had logged on to the council’s Sharepoint system to read their newsletters.

And he said that only 9 out of 16 councillors had attended Monday’s meeting – outnumbered by those sitting in the public seats, and that some members of the committee had never attended.

He said monthly briefing meetings for councillors were usually poorly attended – 72 out of 176 councillors in July, 46 in August and 40 in September in spite of the fact that a daytime and an evening briefing had been arranged to accommodate those with other commitments during the day.

“The numbers speak for themselves,” he said, “We are happy to do anything to engage members…there are councillors who have disengaged for whatever reason, but we can’t spoon-feed them. It’s down to the membership to inform themselves.”

Opposition councillors said that many felt left out after seeing decisions taken by a handful of people, often without public discussion; not being offered places on ‘task and finish’ groups and for the overview and scrutiny committee sometimes only able to carry out its scrutiny role after some key decisions had already been taken.

Said Weymouth councillor David Harris: “A huge number of members feel disenfranchised and are not engaging, but I can’t be involved unless I can participate.”

Acting committee chairman Cherry Brooks said that a mechanism had to be found to involve more councillors in the next six months before the new unitary Dorset Council came into being.

She said that at the last shadow executive meeting there had been virtually no debate: “they were there just to rubber stamp the decisions they had already made,” she said.

Said Weymouth’s Mike Byatt: “Members do have the opportunity to engage, but there are many who are still not thinking about the new unitary council.

“They do need to recognise that we only have six months left in our current status, which is not a long time,” he said, urging all councillors to think ahead to the future and get involved now.

Bridport councillor David Rickard said that many councillors were finding that district and borough councils were not taking many decisions because the focus had switched to preparing for the new unitary council – and its shadow executive was now, effectively, making most of the key decisions.

“It feels like everything has stopped..we either get no decision, it’s said a decision won’t be made until next year, or decisions are made on the hoof..

“I now get told what is happening, I don’t feel I get a chance to engage and be consulted.”