Councils in Dorset are set to merge in the biggest shake-up to local government in more than 40 years.

Communities Secretary Sajid Javid has been considering the 'Future Dorset' proposals for more than a year which will see the existing nine authorities replaced with two unitary councils for the whole of Dorset.

The long-awaited decision was announced today in the House of Commons.

"I am today announcing that I have decided to implement, subject to Parliamentary approval, that locally-led proposal to replace the existing nine councils across Dorset," Mr Javid said. 

Weymouth and Portland, East Dorset, North Dorset, Purbeck and West Dorset will be replaced by a single unitary authority.

Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch will form a second authority with the new organisation taking effect in April 2019.

In the "two tier" system of government, DCC shares local administration with several other authorities including WDDC and Weymouth and Portland Borough Council.

The new unitary authority will provide all services, which the proposals aimed to create 'stronger and more accountable leadership'. 

The proposal said there will be fewer councillors, each with more accountability for their area, so residents will know who you can speak to about council matters. 

It is also hoped the reorganisation will reduce overhead costs, potentially saving the council £28 million a year, which can by pumped into frontline services. 

West Dorset MP, sir Oliver Letwin said: "This is very good news. The only way for Dorset councils to continue delivering the services we need and to begin to solve the massive challenges we face in adult social services and children's services is by slimming down the over-heads by moving from nine councils to just two. These proposals will do just that."

UNISON, who represent public sector workers said saving made in the merger must be directed into frontline services.  

UNISON organiser in Dorset, Janine Miller said the point of a reorganisation is to get better services for local people but it remained to be seen whether this would transpire.

She added due to government cuts, services were at breaking point.

"If this reorganisation can free up money for vital public amenities, that is good for everyone. But it can’t be used as an excuse for further cuts.

“Any money saved must be put back into public services. Public service workers will make sure the Dorset councils merger is as successful as possible. Council bosses owe it them and their communities to put the proceeds back into local services,” she said. 

The proposals were supported by 62 per cent of residents, all strategic stakeholders, eight of nine local councils and seven of the eight Dorset MPs‎.

Richard Drax, MP for South Dorset said: "Our system of democracy works that if people vote for something, they should get it."

Mr Drax said he held back putting his opinions forward on the proposals as he felt it was not his decision to make. 

"A substantial number of the councils were for it and most people support it so I felt I had a duty to back it," he said. 

In a joint statement the seven Dorset MPs said they were 'delighted' with the announcement and it while the process had been long the "prize has been worth it."

However, there are concerns the move could mean a potential loss of local responsiveness of services.

Portland town councillor and mayor Charlie Flack said 'only time will tell' what the impact of the change would be. 

"Things like planning could be a worry as people without a local knowledge of the isle will be making the decisions," he said. 

The move could mean enhanced powers for town councils but cllr Flack said Portland Town Council was 'still in the dark' about how much responsibility they would be able to take on.

He added the town council hoped to take over the running of council car parks to generate income that would support the upkeep of gardens, toilets, play areas and free car parks on the isle. 

Cllr Flack said without the extra income the town council would not be able to afford to retain its other responsibilities without adding the the council tax precept.

Leader of Purbeck District Council (PDC), Cllr Gary Suttle said PDC work to ensure the people of Purbeck were given a 'strong and loud voice' on the new council.     

In a joint statement, the leaders of the nine councils said: “This is an historic day for public services in Dorset. Now we have received this decision, we can collectively focus our efforts, through the established Joint Committees, on creating two brand new councils.  This will be a challenge but we will work hard to ensure our communities receive the services they expect and deserve."

"Our strong track record of partnership working in Dorset, whether through shared Chief Executives and management teams or joint service delivery, demonstrates our ability to put in place creative and innovative ways of working, and shows we will always put the provision & preservation of essential frontline public services and the interests of our residents first. 

"This is about so much more than the reorganisation of council structures in Dorset.  The opportunity to change the way we provide services will help us save money, give greater accountability to council tax payers and service users, and protect public services for future generations.”

Cllr Rebecca Knox, Chair of the Dorset Area Joint Committee and Leader of Dorset County Council said:  "On behalf of the Dorset Joint Committee I am delighted that we have been given this opportunity to create a new council for the heart of the county across Dorset. It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to remodel local services with our communities and partners to be responsive, innovative and above all else, efficient and effective.

“We will work with our colleagues in Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole to make sure individuals who rely on our services, staff and services are transferred in a seamless and positive way.

“Local Government Reform offers an opportunity to move to shared and collective delivery, with a democratic mandate that can act quickly as we work even more closely with our communities and partners to make sure Dorset is a great place to live and work. The way forward for Dorset will focus on investing in our future, good education, a growing economy and good service delivery. It is what our staff strive to deliver, what our residents need, and why councillors carry out the work they do.”

In a joint statement the seven Dorset MPs said: “We are delighted by the Government’s announcement that the proposals to slim down local government in Dorset have been approved. While the process has been long the prize has been worth it. 

"Given the pressures on public spending, the only affordable way to meet the needs of the elderly, the young and the working population is to reduce unnecessary overheads and to streamline service delivery. In particular, we need completely new ways of working if we are to fill the funding gap in education for pupils with special needs and to provide the proper adult social services that are crucial both for our frail elderly population and for our local NHS.

"These proposals will make such innovation and efficiency possible by replacing our current nine councils with just two new single tier councils -- a massive reduction in bureaucracy."