A company set up by West Oxfordshire District Council with other authorities to provide shared services is “a massive organisation to unpick”, a councillor warned.

West Oxfordshire District Council transferred most services and the majority of its workforce to Publica in 2017.

It jointly owns the company with Cotswold District Council, Forest of Dean District Council and Cheltenham Borough Council.

But consultants recommended that a significant number of services should return to being under the direct control of the councils.

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At a meeting of WODC’s executive, leader Andy Graham said the prospect of their staff “tailoring” services to meet West Oxfordshire’s needs is “truly exciting”. 


But he said the exact costs involved are “difficult to determine at this stage”.

"There may be one-off costs related to staffing and the transition itself including potential redundancy and pension expenses. Additionally there may be ongoing costs that we need to account for in the long term."

He said the signficant move was a "financial, legal and operational challenge".

Conservative group leader - and former council leader - Michele Mead said: “I’m really disappointed with the decision you’re making.

"I’ve listened to Cotswold District Council’s cabinet meeting and I’m listening to this one here where you’ve both stated you want to take back control.

“Publica is actually owned by you so ‘taking back control’ of your own business sounds like very odd language to use.

"I’m very disappointed because you could have gone down the other route of actually supporting the business you own rather than dismantling the business that you own.”

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She added: "Do any of the CEOs have qualifications in transitional management because this is a massive organisation that you are going to have to unpick and I'm a little bit concerned that we don't have - no offence to any of the CEOs, they are all very good at what they do - but I'm not sure they have the qualifications to actually do the transition management well."

CEO Giles Hughes said in his view the council needed to appoint a programme director as well as a transitional team with the necessary human resources, legal and financial skills to make the move successfully.

Mr Graham told Ms Mead the move to Publica, which happened under the previous Conservative administration, had led to “some efficiencies”.

He said: "At the time it was set up there was no indication from the administration of that time of any savings that were going to be made. It was set up in good faith.

"Subsequently some efficiencies were made but they come at a price," he said, adding it had put "significant stress on staff".

“It’s time for that capacity to be built back in so we do not put our staff under stress and subsequently our services under stress.”

He added: “I think you will find if you do your own straw poll of residents they do want their council to operate services and don’t necessarily approve of the model.”

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Alaric Smith, WODC’s executive member for finance, said as a relatively new councillor he found the current system of delivering services “incredibly opaque” and it was "clear that other councils have also lost confidence in the model".

The executive approved the recommendations to create a phased plan to transfer services.

Detailed proposals will be considered by the scrutiny committee on December 18 and a decision will be made in late January or February next year.

If approved Publica would only provide back-office functions and customer services in West Oxfordshire.