Shared Services (Agenda Item 7)
Report of the Chief Executive.
The Chief Executive presented this report, explaining that this project was potentially in a position to move forwards (on an interim basis) a little earlier than had been anticipated owing to the imminent departure of the Director of Finance and Resources (S. 151 Officer) and the fact that South Norfolk District Council currently had a vacancy for its Deputy Chief Executive.
The Chief Executive stressed that the proposals before Council were not in any way to predetermine how any shared services might look – or even whether or not such an arrangement would be adopted. However, as the Council had agreed to explore and develop a single paid service, and given that both Breckland District Council, and South Norfolk District Council had vacancies at Chief Officer level, it seemed sensible to use the opportunity to share some of the workload, rather than for both Authorities to go through recruitment procedures for each post.
As the appointment of Chief Officers at Breckland District Council was under the remit of Members, and not the Head of the Paid Service, the Chief Executive was asking the Council to grant a temporary suspension to the Council’s Constitution, in order to delegate relevant authority to him in this instance. This would enable him to consult further with the Chief Executive of South Norfolk Council on this matter, as laid out in the recommendations.
He explained that the senior vacancies at each Authority covered different roles and service areas, so any proposed sharing of posts would require some alignment of responsibilities.
He also pointed out that, in the event that Members agreed to the recommendations, it would be necessary for Breckland to have its own S. 151 Officer during the interim arrangements. It was therefore proposed that Mark Finch, Head of Finance, be appointed, as this Officer, following the departure of the present incumbent in April 2010.
Following questions from Members, the Chief Executive confirmed that:
- South Norfolk would have its own S.151 Officer (the Chief Executive). It was believed that it would be sensible for each Authority to retain its own S.151 Officer, not least to avoid any confusion and to retain neutrality.
- Mark Finch had a detailed knowledge and experience of the financial workings at Breckland District Council, which made him the most suitable person to take on the S.151 Officer role.
- The proposal for a shared senior officer was very much an interim solution. Affected staff would retain their substantive roles in their respective authorities. In the event that it was decided not to go ahead with shared services arrangements, such staff would revert to their original roles. Once a final decision had been taken on this, the relevant recruitment processes would be set in motion for any vacancies arising from that decision.
He added that the purpose of the recommendations before Council was to avoid Members having to go through a senior recruitment process now, for what may possibly turn out to be a relatively short-term tenure.
With regard to the possibility of a joint Scrutiny function, the Chairman of the Overview & Scrutiny Commission said that there had not yet been a formal meeting. However there had been some initial discussion with his opposite number at South Norfolk District Council and other appropriate officers. They had agreed some principles and work practices, and further work would be undertaken. A joint Scrutiny Panel would be formed to review and assist the development of the shared service agenda, prior to each Council being asked to consider a permanent move to a shared paid service. They were aware of, and were aiming to meet, their respective Council’s report timetables and Annual Meetings.
Members asked for the recommendations to be amended to ensure that they would be kept informed, particularly of any appointments or interim changes to structures, as they developed. Additionally, Members wished to see the “Sector Report”, once received.
The Deputy Leader expressed sincere thanks to the current S.151 Officer, Rob Barlow for all his help and hard work. He praised the standard of the reports presented by Mr Barlow, as well as the way the Finance Section had been reorganised, which had greatly improved the quality of the service provided. Wishing him all the best for his new role and the future, the Deputy Leader added that both he and the Chair of the Audit Committee held Mr Barlow’s professionalism and knowledge in very high regard, not least since he had had to deal with some particularly challenging and difficult issues during his time at Breckland. Mr J. Labouchere added his personal thanks and best wishes, which were warmly echoed by other Members of the Council.
The Principal Member Services Officer then explained to Members exactly what the recommendations entailed in terms of suspension to Standing Orders and temporary changes in obligations. The following Standing Orders would need to be suspended for this purpose alone (in all other respects they would remain in full force and effect):
- Standing Order 32 (Ref: General Purposes Committee)
- Standing Order 58 (Ref: Recruitment of Chief Officers)
- Standing Order 60(1) (Ref: Appointment of Chief Officers and
Deputy Chief Officers)
The proposed powers included temporary amendments for the purposes stated in Recommendations 2.1 and 2.2 to the delegations to:
- General Purposes Committee
- Staff Appointments Panel
The existing Constitution would otherwise remain in full force and effect.
Overview & Scrutiny Panel for reviewing Shared Services
(a) Under s.102(2) of the Local Government Act 1972, the number of Members on the Joint Committee and their term of office would be fixed between the two Councils; and
(b) Political Balance rules would apply.
(1) Mark Finch, Head of Finance, be appointed S.151 Officer for Breckland Council only, following the departure of the present incumbent in April 2010;
(2) Standing Orders be suspended to the extent indicated above and the Chief Executive be delegated authority to allow him to carry out the following:
(a) to determine interim structures, and agree and appoint officers to joint interim appointments serving both Breckland and South Norfolk, in conjunction with both the Chief Executive of South Norfolk and the Leaders of each Council;
(b) to agree to the sharing of chief officer posts on an interim basis and determine the starting salaries for such joint appointments, provided that costs are met within existing approved budgets either in or across portfolios, in conjunction with the Chief Executive of South Norfolk District Council;
(c) to provide the Chairman of General Purposes Committee with a summary of any appointments or interim changes to structures under the provision of (a) and (b) above, and to keep Members informed; and
(3) a joint Overview and Scrutiny Panel be established for the specific purpose of reviewing all aspects of a shared service project.