Shared services agreement between two Norfolk councils looks set to collapse

Sheila Oxtoby with Tom FitzPatrick (left) leader of North Norfolk District Council and Graham Plant

Sheila Oxtoby with Tom FitzPatrick (left) leader of North Norfolk District Council and Graham Plant (right) Leader of Great Yarmouth Borough Council. Pictured in the Assembly Room in the Town Hall in Great Yarmouth. Picture: James Bass - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2015

An arrangement which saw two Norfolk district councils share a chief executive and senior management staff looks set to break down.

North Norfolk chief executive Sheila Oxtoby, chief finance officer Karen Sly and head of HR Julie Cooke have been working for both North Norfolk District Council and Great Yarmouth Borough Council since November 7 last year.

But the set up - which was always meant to test out whether shared management could work - looks set to end, according to an email sent by Mrs Oxtoby to Great Yarmouth Borough Council staff and seen by the Great Yarmouth Mercury/EDP.

The email said over the summer councillors at both Great Yarmouth and North Norfolk had taken part in workshops to discuss shared management in more depth, as well as a report being commissioned from the Local Government Association to look at whether the arrangement was beneficial for both councils.

But it went on to say the North Norfolk cabinet had indicated, ahead of their meeting on September 5, that they preferred not to continue to share a Chief Executive and Chief Finance Officer and instead to retain their own senior management team.

It said: 'This has been shared with members at Great Yarmouth who are mindful not to await a formal decision and instead to start the process for recruiting their own dedicated chief executive and chief finance officer.

'Group leaders are currently taking advice on recruitment and will be taking a report to council on September 8 to start this process. The interim arrangements will continue during this period to ensure as much continuity and stability as possible.'

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The shared services arrangement came after the decision was taken to terminate the contract with former Yarmouth chief executive Gordon Mitchell in October last year.

Mr Mitchell's appointment in 2014 - through his own firm, Solace - caused controversy when it was revealed he would be paid £995 per day plus VAT. This was almost double the cost of the previous chief executive Jane Ratcliffe, and amounted to a salary of £200,000 per year.

In December, Mrs Oxtoby said: 'By March we should save £40,000 at each council for sharing my role as well as the head of finance role.'

In a joint statement, council leader Graham Plant, UKIP group leader Kay Grey and Labour group leader Trevor Wainwright, said: 'These interim arrangements have been a useful trial, giving all councillors at both councils the opportunity to test out a shared management approach and consider future options for sharing without committing either council.

'Both councils have been clear from the start that any permanent sharing arrangements must meet the needs and aspirations of both authorities, and the communities they serve. Both councils wholly respect each other's position.

'Early indications from North Norfolk are that they will not continue with sharing arrangements when their cabinet meets on September 5. Due to the timescales involved in recruiting a chief executive, Great Yarmouth's political leaders are already taking advice around recruiting their own chief executive and head of finance, who will continue to work with partners to support the borough's priorities, including supporting sustainable economic growth.

'The recruitment of a new chief executive for Great Yarmouth will have cross-party involvement, and both authorities are committed to working together to ensure a smooth and seamless transition.'

It's not clear how much a dedicated chief executive and finance officer would cost Great Yarmouth Borough Council, but according to data released by North Norfolk last year Mrs Oxtoby's salary was between £95,000 - £100,000. The head of finance role offered a salary of between £55,000 - £60,000.