BOURNEMOUTH and Poole councils should merge together to save money and protect frontline services, it is claimed.

With all councils facing massive cuts in their budgets, both Bournemouth and Poole are being urged to seriously consider joining forces in a move that could potentially save millions in staff costs.

It comes as Christchurch and East Dorset councils announce plans to share services and a senior manager team.

West Dorset and Weymouth are also set to do the same.

And three London borough councils – Westminster, Hammersmith and Fulham, and Kensington and Chelsea – are considering a merger that would create the UK’s first “super council” and save up to £100m.

Now there is a growing campaign for Bournemouth and Poole to follow suit, starting by delivering joint services, like education and social services, and working up to a full merger.

The idea is set to form part of Bournemouth Liberal Democrats’ manifesto at next year’s local elections.

Cllr Richard Smith said one of the key benefits would be a reduction in highly-paid council officers and pointed out that the number of Bournemouth staff earning more than £50,000 a year had increased from 55 to 118 in the past five years.

“There’s been a large expansion at the top level while the frontline has been squeezed.

“If this is replicated in Poole then you can see potentially what a large saving could be made by merging.”

And he added: “We have one police division for Bournemouth and Poole, one fire division and one primary care trust.

“Every other sector of government looks at both towns together, it’s only the councils that don’t.”

Adrian Fudge, former deputy leader of Bournemouth council, said: “You should be looking to provide services in the most economic way possible and merging Bournemouth and Poole would do that.”

He said the way the London boroughs had done it, by merging the administrative side but keeping their own elected councillors, appeared a good compromise.

And former council leader Douglas Eyre, who attempted to rally support for a South East Dorset Council during the last reorganisation of local government, said: “I feel it’s an idea whose time has come.

“I am the first person to be passionate about Bournemouth’s history and tradition but when it comes to council services and visions, we are effectively one community.

“There would be millions of pounds of efficiency savings but it’s about more than that.

“Working together on the economy and transport makes sense.”

But councillors in Poole are less keen on the idea. Deputy council leader Cllr Don Collier said: “We work closely with our neighbouring authorities and are always happy to investigate working together where there is a strong business case and a clear benefit for Poole.”

But Cllr Brian Clements, who was leader of Poole council when it broke away as a unitary authority in 1997, said merging the authorities’ political systems would be a “drastic mistake” and retaining Poole’s independence was vital.

“I would fear Poole becoming like Boscombe in playing second fiddle to Bournemouth.

“I’m sure a lot more could be shared between the authorities and no doubt it will soon be looked at.

“But we have to be careful not to create a bigger bureaucracy that becomes even more unwieldy.”