COUNCILS in Dorset look set to trim a further £6m from their budgets as they press ahead with a groundbreaking union.

Further job losses have not been ruled out as Weymouth and Portland Borough Council (W&PBC) and West Dorset District Council (WDDC), which have already joined services, press ahead with a merger with Blandford-based North Dorset District Council. It will be the first tri-council partnership in England and Wales, covering half the rural county of Dorset serving more than 235,000 people.

From plans being discussed by the councils, it look as though WDDC HQ in Dorchester will become the hub of operations.

W&PBC and WDDC have already saved £3m a year from their shared services partnership and shed more than 70 jobs. They are looking to make further cuts in light of reduced government grant.

It comes amid concerns that Weymouth is 'losing its identity' in the partnership and plans progress to move staff out of North Quay. Around 100 workers are set to move to Dorchester.

Now more staff from NDDC look set to move to Dorchester.

The three councils are hoping to make fresh savings of £6m over the next five years whilst creating a new senior management makeup.

To progress the project, they want to bid for almost £1.5m from the Transformation Challenge Award fund, set up by the government to help councils change how they work.

The first part of the bid, from NDDC, will propose the three councils share a chief executive and senior management team by next March.

No redundancies have been identified as yet, but it is understood job losses will be made at senior management level.

NDDC's chief executive Liz Goodall has already confirmed she'll be retiring at the end of the financial year.

The second bid from WDDC and Weymouth and Portland Borough Council will propose combining and developing joint services with NDDC.

The NDDC spokesman said savings would also be made in 'back office functions' such as IT, human resources and finance.

He added: “Big savings will be made by moving most of the administrative functions to the new West Dorset District offices in Dorchester.”

It is not known the implications these saving plans will have for Weymouth and West Dorset.

The councils hope the tri-partnership would give them a stronger voice on a larger stage, whilst enabling more flexible arrangements for decision making.

In a joint statement, NDDC Leader Deborah Croney, WDDC Leader Robert Gould and Mike Byatt, W&PBC spokesman for Corporate Affairs and Continuous Improvement, said: “As the challenge intensifies for local authorities to deliver continuous improvement and still better value for money; the partners are discussing joining together to get the very best from one another's achievements and experiences and to find additional ways to add value to communities at less cost.

“The partners believe that together they could provide a better and more flexible range of services, focussed on the needs and priorities of their communities and at less cost to the taxpayer.”

COUNCILLOR Francis Drake, who represents the Melcombe Regis ward for W&PBC said the bid would lead to a win-win situation.

He said: “If you have got one chief executive and one senior manager, look at the money you save. You don't need one in each area.

“If we are out to save money as a council, surely the way forward is to work as a team across different councils.”

But Cllr Paul Kimber said: “It's important the borough doesn't lose its identity in this merger; we have to work to keep that.

“Clearly this partnership has to be considered to make further savings but it's important we protect jobs and services.

“The decisions we make in light of reduced government funding will be crucial.”

A business case will now be worked up for councillors to consider in early autumn. The full bid will be submitted by October.