JOBS and services must be protected as plans for Cherwell District Council and Oxfordshire County Council to merge move a step closer, councillor have warned.

Labour councillors in the north of the county have said the deal must not affect current jobs and services and must not be 'a back door' to bringing about a unitary authority.

The call came as county councillors this week rubber-stamped a move to appoint current Cherwell chief Yvonne Rees as new joint chief executive for both authorities.

The move comes after the collapse of Cherwell District Council's multi-million-pound partnership with South Northamptonshire District Council.

Ms Rees was backed by 45 councillors to take on the role, but two independents and nine Liberal Democrats opposed her selection.

Cherwell District Council Labour group leader Sean Woodcock said the party backed the move, but only on the promise of it causing no upheaval.

He said: "With a £2m gap to cover when South Northants splits off, we understand why Cherwell is exploring the option of a merger and will cautiously go along with it.

"But that is on the expressed understanding that it meets our three requirements, the first of which we want to see jobs and services protected. It should not be about saving money at all costs.

"Second, we want no slowdown or slippage in investment into the district or key projects.

"And thirdly, we absolutely will not accept this as a back door way of bringing about unitary councils in Oxfordshire.

"That would be undemocratic."

Cherwell dropped its links with neighbouring South Northants due to the crisis facing cash-strapped Northamptonshire County Council which could mean a reshuffle between the councils.

It had shared a number of services with South Northamptonshire since 2010 and has reported savings of more than £3m as a result.

When Cherwell District Council first revealed the possibility of sharing services with its county counterparts it said it would both retain separate councillor bodies, budgets and decision-making processes.

It also said the partnership plan was not connected to any plans to create a single unitary authority for Oxfordshire, which the county council has been pushing for years.

County council leader Ian Hudspeth said Ms Rees' appointment would mean 'better and more joined-up services provided for the people of Oxfordshire'.

He also said her appointment would be 'an exciting opportunity to do things differently in how we deliver our services, with opportunities to align our services, the biggest gainers will be the residents'.

The first move came on Tuesday when the majority of councillors backed Ms Rees to head up both councils.

Ms Rees is expected to take on the responsibility of the county council, alongside her continued post with Cherwell, in October and be paid £190,000 for the role.

But the Liberal Democrats' group spoke out about the election process.

Cherwell District Council's only member from the party, Alaric Rose, said: "I would say that having met Yvonne a couple of times, and seeing her responses to my emails, I think she is a very capable CEO.

"However, although I am aware that an appointment can be made under section 113 of the Local Government Act, I would think it more democratic and appropriate for Oxfordshire to have advertised the position, and undergo the usual process for appointing a CEO.

"I would like to stress that the fault lies within Oxfordshire, and not with Yvonne Rees."

Ms Rees' arrival will signal the departure of current Oxfordshire County Council chief executive Peter Clark who will receive a pay-off just shy of £260,000.