THE future of local authorities across Dorset is being shaken up, the Echo can reveal.

Plans are being drawn up to create a ‘super council’ across South East Dorset.

The proposal to merge Bournemouth, Christchurch, East Dorset and Poole to make one authority for the conurbation.

Talks have been underway for the past few weeks and the new council could be in place by 2019.

But politicians in West Dorset are saying that a unitary authority for the whole of Dorset would be the way to go.

Robert Gould, leader of Dorset County Council, said: "There are so many public services which operate on a pan-Dorset basis that a more ambitious devolution plan should look towards one unitary authority for the whole county.

"Our priority is to identify the most cost-effective public service model for Dorset and all its communities. We need to develop a business case which is based on sound evidence and puts the people of Dorset at the heart of any decision.

"We will work closely with all partners – in the public sector as well as businesses and voluntary and community organisations – to develop the best model for Dorset.

"There is a great deal more work to be done but I believe evidence is likely to show that a new single unitary council for the whole county will deliver the best outcomes for local people and make the best use of limited public money."

There are no details as yet of where the proposed new east Dorset council would be based, how many staff it would employ or what it would be called.

The behind the scenes negotiations have been conducted by the four leaders and three chief executives.

The government’s devolution agenda is one of the reasons for the proposal along with driving economic growth in the conurbation. But the bleak financial prospects at both Bournemouth and Poole after huge cuts in government grants and rising demands for services, particularly adult social care, is also a big factor with politicians being forced to look at radical solutions or face years of making savage cuts and councils becoming unviable or going broke.

Councillor John Beesley, leader at Bournemouth, said: “One council for south east Dorset is a significant opportunity for residents and businesses.

“We are keen to utilise new devolution powers being created by central government to benefit economic prosperity and quality of life for residents. It is important that we consider all options in detail, and we must get this right. I believe this geographical combination makes the most sense.”

Cllr Ray Nottage, leader at Christchurch, added: “We all agree the principle that, if the new council goes ahead, existing mayoralties should be maintained. There will be a need for a meticulous evaluation of existing civic identities and traditions. Each community’s interests and views will be sought.”

Cllr Ian Monks, East Dorset’s leader, said: “Failure to change will result in fewer and poorer services to the public and so this is not an option we can afford to ignore.”

Cllr Janet Walton, leader at Poole, said councils needed to save tens of millions of pounds over the next three years and it was difficult to see how this will be achieved without a fundamental solution.

Bournemouth has already proposed putting up car park charges and introducing charges for green waste collection.

It has already said it is facing “severe financial challenges”.

Poole warned as long ago as 2013 that it was on the edge of a financial “abyss”.