The committee of councillors who oversaw a cost-saving partnership between Oxfordshire County and Cherwell District councils has taken the next step towards pulling apart the agreement.
The recommendation to split less than four years after merging certain operational posts, including that of chief executive, was passed by the Joint Shared Services & Personnel Committee, a group made up of councillors from both authorities and different parties.
It is a decision that means the plan will now be put to all members of the respective councils at meetings at Cherwell on Monday, February 7 and at Oxfordshire on Tuesday, February 8.
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Breaking the legal framework that sees the councils share members of staff involves a six-month notice period and if the recommendation is passed, both councils will serve notice on each other to work towards a “formal termination date” of August 31.
In the meantime, Anita Bradley, director of law and governance and monitoring officer of both councils, said officers would establish a working group to “do the work necessary in relation to services”, including “a short and directed due diligence exercise”, to lay out how services currently run through shared provision would operate after the split.
She offered some reasons for the split in presenting her report to the committee, saying that “staff capacity is now stretched at a strategic leadership level” with “wider partnership working throughout the (Covid-19) pandemic” prompting consideration of further possibilities on that front.
Different posts – notably that of chief executive Yvonne Rees and director of finance Lorna Baxter – will be split immediately, while it was acknowledged that other services may split after the end of August.
Another instant change relates to the committee itself.
These groups of councillors have the final say on whether plans put together by council officers move forward. Matters usually get debated followed by a vote but these proposals state that the committee must agree unanimously – with no votes against – to move forward with each part of the plan it decides on, something that was questioned by Councillor Andrew Gant (Oxfordshire County Council, Lib Dem, Wolvercote & Summertown).
“You said that would be quite a significant change and indeed it is,” he said.
“It is a basic principle of what we do day in, day out, that committees make their decisions on a majority vote. What is the rationale for that and does it raise the potential for a stalemate?”
Anita Bradley said the idea was to bring forward business plans for the affected areas that “ensure all members of parties, groups and councils are comfortable with the recommendations and decisions”.
She said: “We debated this long and hard, we talked about ensuring it was fair across both councils.
“The recognition was that by the time work reached this committee, it should be a straightforward process.”
She highlighted the inclusion of a process to resolve any disputes which involves senior management intervening or mediation but added “it will be necessary to reach agreement and on some occasions compromise, whichever side of the equation you are on”.