Partnership Working Breaking New Ground

Oxfordshire County Council & Cherwell District Council Partnership Working Update
November 2018

it’s just over a year since I was appointed to the cabinet at Oxfordshire County Council and Cherwell District Council to deliver the innovative partnership working agreement between the two authorities.  Since that time, we have begun to develop a strong collaborative approach to seeking efficiencies by sharing of senior posts and service redesign. These efficiencies are important as they help us reduce our running costs and overheads, delivering best value for money. However, the partnership is also focused on effectiveness. And whilst reducing our running costs is clearly important, improving the effectiveness of our service delivery offers a real prize as residents will experience the benefit in terms of the services they receive. We are also seeking to improve the permeability of the interface that inevitably exists in two tier authorities.

We anticipated our initial savings would result from sharing the costs of employment and at the outset of the partnership no savings targets were set beyond the recognition that a shared Chief Executive post would save a relatively small amount. In our six month review, however, of the section 113 agreement we set out an expected annual saving of over £600k, split between both councils.  This was based on the following anticipated shared officer structure:

Chief Executive
Director of Law and Governance (Monitoring Officer)
Corporate Director: Customers and Organisational Development
Deputy Director: HR
Assistant Director: Social Care, Commissioning and Housing
Assistant Director for Regulatory Services and Community Safety

 

Savings to date for 2019/20 are running ahead of this target(as set out in the partnership review document published in March 2019). This reflects the impact of posts coming on-line throughout the course of the year. We are well on track to deliver in excess of this projection during the course of the next financial year and further posts are planned to become shared.

Since the review in March 2019, we have added to that list:

Head of Procurement and Contract Management

 

In addition, the following shared posts are providing additional support and backfill on an interim basis in services such as communities and culture to ensure there is effective capacity and support to deliver in priority areas such as growth:

Corporate Director: Communities
Director of Cultural Services (CDC Chief Operating Officer)

We have also recently agreed to add three further senior joint posts to the leadership of both organisations:

Corporate Director: Commercial Development, Property and Assets
Director for Strategy and Communications
Director for Customers and Digital.

As each of these are joint senior roles, the councils will see the costs of senior management reduce.  More importantly these roles will lead alignment and join up in the key areas of IT and customer services, property, estates, commercial development, culture and leisure services, and organisational strategy more widely.  

Additional savings will also be realised through activities such as joint procurement and the implementation of full shared services (i.e. beyond senior management roles).

There is, of course, also overlap with OCC’s organisational transformation, and partnership working can be an important enabler of that.  For example:

Work is well advanced in terms of the development of shared services with proposals to establish a joint communications, policy and performance function. These proposals are currently under consultation but if implemented could save in the order of £630k.
Likewise, work is currently underway to jointly procure and replace a key IT system for regulatory services that should see contract costs reduce for both partners.
There are long term plans to work together more closely to deliver the finance functions

At this stage, savings targets have not yet been finalised and there is a conversation to be had about how they will be recognised, but that will be resolved by the end of this financial year.

We have come a long way in 12 months and both Councils have strong ambitions for the future of the partnership. The sharing of appropriate senior posts is realising financial savings and is the critical prerequisite to improved service design & delivery.  We should be optimistic about the ability of this unique collaboration to deliver essential non-structural reform, reduce costs and improve services for the residents we serve, whatever the future holds for local government.