The divorce between Banbury area and Oxford county authorities looks set to be a long one - although some services may remain shared

The unexpected split between Cherwell district and Oxfordshire councils is likely to take another five months to complete - and some services may carry on being shared.

By The Newsroom
Monday, 14th March 2022, 5:09 pm
Yvonne Rees, chief executive of Cherwell District Council who was joint CEO of the combined CDC/Oxfordshire County Council until the two authorities split

The timetable for splitting public services currently delivered jointly by two Oxfordshire councils has been set after a three year attempt at unity came to an end.

Oxfordshire County Council and Cherwell District Council merged a host of operational posts, including the senior roles of chief executive, director of finance and monitoring officer, in a bid to cut costs in September 2018.

Less than three-and-a-half years later the arrangements are being pulled apart and this week’s meeting of the Joint Shared Services and Personnel Committee delivered more detail.

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Bodicote House, HQ of Cherwell District Council

Some parts may still be the subject of joint working, albeit under new arrangements, while others are likely to be recommended for separation.

The most senior posts have already been split and work on what will happen to the rest will be handled in three phases, starting with the simplest and finishing with the most complex.

Once council officers have completed that work and made recommendations, they will report back to the committee (made up of councillors from each authority) some of whom serve on both.

The aim is to have them all sorted out by August 31 – the date the current agreement to share services formally ends – but some aspects will kick in before that.

Phase one recommendations are set to come forward for the committee’s next meeting on April 25.

The two councils are working towards a new deal to handle emergency planning and environmental health matters together.

Cherwell also wants a similar arrangement for climate change with Nathan Elvery, Cherwell’s chief operating officer, saying “that is the same for Oxfordshire but with a slight question mark over what that might look like”.

Committee chair Councillor Liz Brighouse OBE (Lab, Churchill & Lye Valley, Oxfordshire) said: “Those of us that have been through this over the past while realise some of the real strengths of what partnership working meant and we would probably want to make sure some of that was ongoing in a different form.”

It is proposed that phase two of the recommendations will be put forward on May 23.

As things stand, the councils anticipate continuing to work together on procurement – buying goods and services – internal auditing and counter fraud. But seven areas are earmarked for separation – legal services, democratic services, policy and performance, communications, information governance, freedom of information and human resources training, which includes health and safety.

All of the areas marked as most complex – IT, property and customer services – are earmarked for continued partnership working “subject to due diligence”. The committee is due to hear back on those on July 4.

Councillor Barry Richards (Lab, Banbury Ruscote, Cherwell District) asked whether there would continue to be a single point of contact for service queries from the public in order to ensure people are not subjected to "the old local government run-around”.

Cherwell chief executive Yvonne Rees, who held the same post at Oxfordshire prior to the split, replied: “I would dearly hope the answer to that is yes.

“We should be signposting to each other, we should not be saying ‘sorry, I can’t help you, can you ring this number’.

“That was the ambition (through shared services) so I would hope, certainly from a Cherwell and county perspective, that kind of functionality would continue however the disaggregation looks but we don’t know at this stage.”