Bournemouth, Poole, Christchurch and East Dorset councils are making plans to merge into one super-council. Here's what you need to know about the proposal.

Why has this been proposal been put forward?

Three reasons. The government’s devolution agenda which is giving councils, especially in the north of England more power. To attract investment into the powerhouse of the Dorset economy and because councils face a bleak financial future unless they group together. Poole’s position is particularly dire. Political leaders believe a radical solution is vital. Things have to change as government slashes the amount of money it gives local councils.

Whose plan is it?

The four leaders and three chief executives of Bournemouth, Poole, Christchurch and East Dorset have been discussing it for some time behind closed doors. It has been kept under the radar until now.

Where would the new council be based?

That hasn’t been decided. Bournemouth is the obvious place because of location but others may have different ideas.

How big would it be?

It would the eighth largest local authority in the country with almost 500,000 residents across South East Dorset.

The new authority would achieve ‘critical mass’ in terms of its viability.

How big would its budget be?

Over £1bn a year.

What would it be called?

That’s still to be decided. It certainly won’t be South East Dorset Council because it sounds too parochial.

What would happen to the rest of Dorset?

Dorset County Council say a full Dorset unitary would be a better option. Or rest of Dorset could also become a unitary authority incorporating what’s left of Dorset County Council, West Dorset, Purbeck, North Dorset and Weymouth and Portland. But some fear this rural unitary would be unviable.

Where would it leave the idea of a pan-Dorset Combined Authority currently under discussion?

That depends on the response of the government to the unitary proposal.

Who would have the final say on the go-ahead?

The government. The councils will seek approval in principle from the Communities Secretary and if they get it, will draw up a detailed submission over six to nine months.

What's the timescale?

Ambitious. The authority could be in place by 2019.

How many people would the new council employ? Would there be job losses?

Yes because that’s part of the plan to make local government more efficient and cost effective. There would only be one chief executive instead of three and one set of officers. As for rationalisation of the 10,000 employees currently across the four councils, the numbers are unclear.

Which services would it run?

Everything from adult social care, children’s services, transportation and highways to housing, trading standards, car parks, planning, waste collection and disposal. Unitaries are all purpose authorities providing everything.

What could be the effect on council bills?

It’s unlikely that residents would see much if any reduction even in the long term because of the rising cost of services, notably adult social care. All councils face a social care timebomb. Council tax equalisation would one of the biggest headaches as residents in Bournemouth, Poole, Christchurch and East Dorset all pay different amounts.

Will the public be consulted?

That’s unclear but the timescale means any public consultation would have to be swift. However, some will argue elected leaders don’t have a mandate for such a huge reorganisation. That can be argued both ways.

How much would the reorganisation cost?

It will be very expensive, running into the tens of millions but the argument is that there will be huge long term savings. The government could fund the restructure up front and then be repaid over a period of years.

Would there be fewer councillors?

Almost certainly. Currently there are around 160 across the four councils. That’s already seen as too many. Most backbench councillors don’t have much to do.

What will happen to local mayors?

They would stay with ceremonial roles as part of local civic tradition.