Cheshire council merger causes ‘chaos’ for staff

The move to create a unitary authority in Cheshire has caused “chaos” as staff do not know what jobs they are supposed to be doing, it has been claimed.

Cheshire’s county council and six district councils have today merged into two unitary administrative units (Cheshire West & Chester, and Cheshire East). The moves are part of the “biggest shake-up in local democracy” since the 1970s, according to the government, with a total of 44 councils, including Cheshire, to be replaced by just nine unitary authorities.

Ministers have claimed the moves will save more than £100m per year, with the removal of 300 ‘duplicate’ senior posts saving more than £22m alone. The new unitary authorities will replace district and local councils, and will serve 3.2 million residents.

However, an employee at the former Cheshire County Council, now part of Cheshire West, told Personnel Today this morning it was “chaos” for both new councils in the area.

“It’s difficult to get any work done when half the workforce hasn’t had their new job set out yet and doesn’t know where they’re supposed to be,” he said.

From today, five areas will have one unitary council (Cornwall, Wiltshire, Shropshire, Northumberland and Durham), while two areas will be split into two unitary administrative units each (including Bedfordshire, which will become Bedford Borough and Central Bedfordshire).

The new Cornwall Council said 225 jobs were being lost in the transition, and some staff have been told there was no certainty they would be moving to work at the new authority.

The new council’s chief executive, Kevin Lavery, said: “We had to go live legally today and we’ve been working as fast as possible to assimilate staff into the new organisation. We’re going through a very big reorganisation to bring the organisation into one, and we will sort it out over the next two months.”

Some 26 councils bid to become unitary in 2006, following an England-wide invitation by the Department for Communities and Local Government.

Local government minister, John Healey, said council employers had put much effort into ensuring a smooth transition. “Staff have put a lot of hard work into ensuring a smooth handover and day-one implementation,” he said.

He added: “This is not a cosmetic makeover or just a new logo on a council tax bill. Nor is it just a cost-cutting exercise. It’s about the nine areas making the clear case that they can serve their residents better by top-to-bottom reform, and stripping out a layer of local government.”

Cheshire West & Chester was unavailable for comment.

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