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Exclusive: District/county job share set to replace county chief

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A joint chief executive could be appointed for Cherwell DC and Oxfordshire CC under a partnership arrangement being considered by the two councils.

Yvonne Rees, who is currently joint chief executive of Cherwell and South Northamptonshire Council under a shared services agreement established in 2011, is understood to be the front-runner for the new role.

South Northamptonshire is set to be absorbed into one of two new unitary councils spanning the county, as a result of a recommendation by government-appointed inspector Max Caller following the section 114 notice issued by Northamptonshire CC in February.

Cherwell confirmed the council leadership is “minded to” formally end the partnership with South Northamptonshire, having previously considered becoming part of a new unitary in Northamptonshire. Cherwell is now looking at shared service arrangements with Oxfordshire under a joint chief executive.

LGC understands Cherwell’s ruling Conservative group has already voted internally to push ahead with a proposal which would see Ms Rees take on the joint role following the expected departure of Oxfordshire county chief executive Peter Clark.

Oxfordshire’s Conservative group, which is the largest party with no overall control, was due to hold an internal vote on the issue last week.

The partnership arrangement will be covered in a report set to be considered by the county’s cabinet on 4 June, which is due to be published today.

Cherwell has previously opposed Oxfordshire’s proposal for a single unitary council spanning the county and said in a statement both organisations would “retain separate councillor bodies, budgets and decision-making processes” under the proposal.

It added: “The proposed partnership is not connected to unitary reorganisation proposals, and would instead offer an innovative opportunity to make two-tier local government more effective.”

Oxfordshire confirmed the joint appointment is expected to be made from one of the two councils’ existing chief executives.

The council said: “Oxfordshire County Council is keen to work with Cherwell to ensure its residents continue to receive good services.

“The county council also believes a joint arrangement would help to secure investment in the infrastructure needed to support increases in jobs and homes.”

Leader of Oxfordshire’s opposition Labour group Liz Brighouse said the joint appointment of Ms Rees would be “logical” if a partnership agreement was in place and Mr Clark decided to leave.

But she added: “This has all happened very quickly. I haven’t seen anything in relation to what the different issues are and I would need to see all of that before my group would take any position.”

Cllr Brighouse said the partnership would “almost” create a unitary council in part of the county, but added she did not know how this would feed into any discussions about forming new councils.

Oxfordshire recently signed a housing deal with the government which includes plans to build 100,000 houses in the county by 2031. LGC research recently found senior Oxfordshire councillors were wary about upsetting that arrangement with government by reopening the reorganisation debate.

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