Published: 15:00, 24 January 2017
Plans for councils in east Kent to merge could take a major step forward this week in what may prove to be one of the most far-reaching shake-ups in local government for decades.
An announcement on whether there is to be a “super district council” serving up to half a million residents is due to be made tomorrow.
If the councils decide to go ahead - as is expected - and it gets the green light from the government, there would be a new district authority serving as many as 500,000 residents.
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Five councils have been considering merger since last year: Ashford, Dover, Canterbury, Thanet and Shepway.
The five set out some of their ideas in a “statement of intent” in June in which they said merger “merits further serious consideration.”
That led to consultants being taken on to examine the business case, which has now been finalised.
While a key issue has been the underlying financial pressures councils are under, the councils also believe that teaming up would give them greater clout when it comes to boosting jobs and investment and tackle deprivation.
In terms of services, there would be no changes with the council providing the same as before - such as rubbish collection and planning.
There has been speculation that Ashford council may withdraw.
The initiative may have major repercussions for both staff and councillors.
Sources say that the new council would be represented by significantly fewer elected members.
There would be a single management team for the authority which will be headed by a chief executive.
It is unclear how many employees could be affected.
Each council will now consult on the idea with residents and the scheme could be signed off by March.
If the government approves, the first elections for the new authority could take place in 2019.
Council chiefs have stressed that they are not interested in securing unitary status, which would entail a break-up of the county council system.
While saving potentially tens of millions of pounds, there may be some unease over the possible loss of identity for the areas involved.
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