UP to one in four jobs could go and services will be reduced at two councils planning to merge, a union claims.

An opposition councillor has slammed the timing of an announcement to members of Conservative-run Taunton Deane Borough and West Somerset Councils after a public consultation on the proposed union ended.

A memo warns of the far-reaching impact of a 'transformation' process as the proposed tie-up awaits MPs' approval.

Supporters say it will save millions, while opponents claim the Deane is preparing to bail out financially stretched West Somerset.

The two authorities already have joint working agreements for management and some services.

But the report predicts with the creation of one council covering both patches in the offing, productivity could dip up to 20 per cent along with job losses.

It says: "Inevitably there will be an impact on day-to-day council business, performance and other in-flight and planned projects."

It adds: "We will experience a short-term reduction in service and performance before we can improve sustainable services in the longer term.

"This approach should give the council the best chance of success by releasing sufficient capacity to deliver our transformation ambitions."

Measures include depriving people of the right of appeal to the council following a decision on a complaint; a cut in some service standards; projects delayed; later deadlines for certain work; streamlined decision making; fewer meetings, more e-mails and conference calls.

Deane LibDem Cllr Habib Farbahi accused council leaders of trying to "do more and more with fewer and fewer people".

He added: "This is the latest in Taunton Deane's tale of decline and disintegration as it hurtles towards the merger cliff edge.

"Why wasn't this in the public domain before the consultation ended?

"The leadership will claim this is only a short-term problem until we reach the sunlit uplands of the new merged council, when all the debts and insolvency of West Somerset will disappear with a wave of (Deane leader) John Williams's wand.

"The truth is the merger project is already failing to materialise, resulting in a budget which fails to balance the books and raids the reserves for £459,000, while imposing a council tax rise of the maximum the government allows."

Cllr Williams said the memo is "normal for any organisation employing people" to inform councillors that staff "may be under extra pressure".

He said joint management and services is already saving £1.8 million a year at a time when savings need to be made due to funding cuts.

"We are looking to reduce costs by around 20 per cent," added Mr Williams.

"The process will inevitably lead to a reduction in the number of staff employed.

"However, we are looking to do this through efficiencies as opposed to specific numbers, so it is not possible to say how many people may be affected."

UNISON area organiser Fred Jerrome said he was aware of the plans, although the specifics have not yet been publicised.

"Throughout the process of the merger model, it's ben very clear that the driver of it is a 30 per cent cut in funding available and there's talk of a 20 to 25 per cent staffing cut," added Mr Jerrome.

"From talking to staff on the ground, UNISON is really unconvinced it's going todeliver benefits.

"It isn't clear that a planned move to more digital services is appropriate, particularly as a lot of people in West Somerset lack internet access and skills."