Ambitious new Oxfordshire partnership is breaking new ground in local government

Residents in Oxfordshire are already benefiting from the impact of an ambitious and innovative new partnership between two councils - with plans being explored to develop closer working over coming months.

Cherwell District Council and Oxfordshire County Council set up a joint working partnership in October 2018 – it is one of a very small number of examples of a district and county council sharing staff and services in the whole of the country.

The county council’s cabinet will be asked to approve the continuation of the partnership at its meeting on April 23.

National interest in the partnership

Assistant Chief Executive Claire Taylor said: “It’s fair to say that the ambition and extent of our joint working is genuinely breaking new ground. There are very few examples of a district and a county council working together and none to the degree that we are. People in central and local government throughout the country are monitoring how our project is developing.

“Cherwell District Council has a track record for innovation in housing and regeneration and Oxfordshire County Council has a proven history of attracting infrastructure funding linked to housing to improve our transport network and other essential public services. Our ambition is to maximise those skills, resources and national funding to make the housing and economic growth planned for our county work to the benefit of everyone in our towns and villages.

“The way we manage this growth can only benefit from ever closer working between our two councils and act as a way of piloting and developing new approaches between counties and districts both here in Oxfordshire and elsewhere in England. Ever closer working will also save money as well as providing more joined up services for our residents.”

How have the two councils been working together since October?

The two councils now have several joint senior managers:

  • A joint chief executive,
  • A shared Assistant Director for regulatory services and public protection (trading standards, environmental health etc),
  • A shared Assistant Director to lead Housing and Commissioning
  • A shared lead officer for HR.
  • A shared Director for Law and Governance

The councils also have an interim shared Assistant Chief Executive.

These changes mean that senior management costs are driven down through joint working – meaning that capacity is retained in the county whilst running costs are reduced.

County council staff are now regularly trained and able to locate themselves at Cherwell District Council’s Bodicote House near Banbury.

What is being explored for future co-operation?

Business cases are being developed for sharing services across the two councils in law and governance, finance, HR, communications, policy, consultation, research and business intelligence and regulatory services, such as trading standards and community safety and public protection such as fire and rescue and emergency planning.

The councils are at the early stages of looking at how services might collaborate and align in areas such as ICT, children’s social care and housing.

Claire Taylor added: “Undoubtedly these are fascinating times as we chart a way forward and break new ground with a project that has a real national significance.

“Many parts of England retain a two-tier structure of local government with district and county councils. Districts are close to communities and able to respond and focus at a very local level. Meanwhile county councils deliver strategic services on a larger scale - such as social care, highways and trading standards. There is huge potential in combining these two different approaches into a closer partnership and we believe the results will be powerful.

“Our ambition is to trigger a broader conversation throughout the country - via our own example here in Oxfordshire - about how the councils and other public bodies can work better together. We all face the same challenges and we serve the same residents - so collaboration makes good sense. It is our experience so far is that real tangible improvements can be delivered to the benefit of our residents, both as taxpayers and service-users.”