OXFORDSHIRE'S biggest local authority will scrap its top unelected position as part of a radical shake-up to save costs, it was revealed today.

In a message sent to all staff at Oxfordshire County Council, leader Ian Hudspeth and Joanna Simons revealed the latter will step down at the end of June.

This was to protect front line services and create a new "more networked approach", they said.

The message said: "We are writing to let you know about plans we are putting in place to protect front line services in the light of further likely cuts to local government funding after the General Election in May.

"During the life of the next parliament we will need a new way of working, building on the partnerships we have been developing over the last few years.

"You will also have heard about our ambition to start a debate about how local government should be organised in Oxfordshire to simplify things for the public and save money for essential services.

"All this requires a new, more networked approach to how we manage the council so as part of this we will be making changes in the summer to our top team."

Ms Simons, who was appointed in March 2005, added: “This may seem like a radical change, and it is, but radical change is needed to transform the public sector so it can cope with the financial challenges ahead.”

The surprise announcement today appears to have not been circulated to councillors before this morning and opposition leaders are understood to be urgently requesting more information.

Ms Simons’ departure as chief executive comes as the authority braces itself for the release of a serious case review report into how girls in council care in Oxford were allowed to be groomed and raped for eight years.

It is expected to be published by the end of March and is likely to criticise the county council. Council leader Ian Hudspeth has warned it could put jobs on the line.

In 2013, seven men were sentenced to a total of 95 years in prison for crimes including rape, facilitating child prostitution, and trafficking for sexual exploitation following the police's Operation Bullfinch.

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