‘Breach of trust’ claim as tensions simmer between Norfolk councils

Tom FitzPatrick (left) leader of North Norfolk District Council and Graham Plant (right) leader of G

Tom FitzPatrick (left) leader of North Norfolk District Council and Graham Plant (right) leader of Great Yarmouth Borough Council with chief executive Sheila Oxtoby (centre). Pictured when the shared service arrangement was first launched. Picture: James Bass - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2015

The leader of a council, who is losing three of his officers to a neighbouring authority, has said he feels there was a 'breach of trust' over the controversial switch.

The officers – North Norfolk District Council's chief executive Sheila Oxtoby, head of finance Karen Sly and head of human resources Julie Cooke – are currently working their notice before moving to Great Yarmouth Borough Council.

The trio had been working part-time for Great Yarmouth through a temporary shared management agreement between the two authorities – while the possibility of sharing services was explored.

On September 5, North Norfolk's cabinet agreed to recommend the shared management arrangement should end – and three days later Great Yarmouth agreed to appoint the officers – sparking simmering tensions between the two Conservative-controlled councils.

An email from North Norfolk leader Tom FitzPatrick to Great Yarmouth leader Graham Plant, Mr FitzPatrick said 'potential conflicts of interest' meant he did not want the officers speaking to their new employers while serving notice.

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He today defended that and said he was not 'overly happy' with the circumstances which led to the officers tendering their resignations.

He said: 'The correct thing to do would have been for Great Yarmouth to come and say to me, we are interested in those staff.

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'What could I have done? I couldn't have stopped them from leaving. I am not happy about the way it was done, but it's done and staff are able to move on.

'But I felt it was a breach of trust, effectively. I know Yarmouth does not take that view.'

Mr Fitzpatrick said the draft business case had found sharing services would save £850,000 over five years - which he felt was not enough of a saving to justify a permanent arrangement.

On his email he said: 'We have said they cannot do any work for them and I think it's reasonable that we should take this view. If Graham wants some work done, I think it is quite reasonable that, as our employees, that request should go through us.'

Mr Plant said: 'I can understand his upset, but officers need to speak to each other. We are a bit bemused by it all. This is about people's livelihoods, their careers.

'It has made it very difficult. There may be those who feel I have done the dirty, but it was a decision by the council.

'I am not in a position to decide whether to employ somebody – it has to go through the council.'

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