HEREFORDSHIRE could be on the brink of making NHS and local government history as two local authorities explore ways of bringing some of their key services together.

Herefordshire Council and Herefordshire Primary Care Trust are considering proposals that would mean joining forces to plan and commission some services to the public under one umbrella.

It would slice through the chain of senior management, avoid duplicating top jobs, make better use of money and - hopefully - safeguard health and public services for Herefordshire in the long term.

The board of the PCT has already said yes to negotiations and Herefordshire Council's cabinet will consider the radical plans at a cabinet meeting today (Thursday).

If they approve, it could lead to a three-month public consultation exercise and the setting up of a Public Service Trust next April.

It would be the first of its kind in the country, ultimately have a combined budget of around half-a-billion pounds and could prove a flagship project for the country.

Both authorities already liaise on many health and social care services and the proposals mean extending and strengthening the partnership.

The PCT was recently saved from a merger with Worcestershire but it has to slash its management costs by 15%.

The government has also advised that it wants PCTs to consider ceasing to provide many of its own services such as mental health, community hospitals, health visitors, district nurses, therapist and some dental services, commissioning others to do it instead.

Most of the PCT's 1,400 staff provide these service and, for them, it could mean a change of employer.

The PCT and Herefordshire Council will be now be considering together how a whole range of services can be delivered to local people.

Both are small authorities and there are fears they could be at risk of being swallowed up by neighbours in any future government reviews. They believe that by working with a single management structure and joining up services they would be in a stronger position to ward off future mergers.

Simon Hairsnape, acting chief executive of the PCT, said the clear message from the public was that it wanted control of the commissioning and provision of services to people in Herefordshire to remain in the county.

It was thought a partnership between the council and the PCT could achieve it.

Options are now being explored and firm proposals could be on the cards by 2008.