COTSWOLD District Council (CDC) has been criticised over its handling of the establishment of a shared services company alongside three other authorities to help manage council affairs and reduce costs.

From November, 98 per cent of employees at CDC and staff at councils in Cheltenham, Forest of Dean and West Oxfordshire will be transferred to Publica Ltd, a company set up by the four authorities.

The creation of one company with staff from each council aims to reduce the cost of management and administration and provide the opportunity to share workloads and expertise.

Leader of Cotswold Lib Dems, Cllr Joe Harris, speaking at a full council meeting on Thursday, said the move is a “total revolution in the way that we know councils and the way that we know how they operate”.

However, he said, while “all of us welcome the move”, there is “cross party concern” regarding issues including the lack of “democratic accountability” while the transition has an air of “cloaked secrecy” about it.

Fellow Lib Dem and Cirencester Mayor Nigel Robbins said: "As elected members, one of our duties is to make sure you are getting really good value for money for the public services run by the district council.

“We are able to do that through a whole variety of ways, not only these meetings, and through cabinet and committee meetings, but also directly with the people responsible for those services.

“What I want to know about this private company, or public company as you like to call it: are we going to have the same direct access to the people responsible at whatever level who are running the services, or is there going to be some elaborate protocol?”

“How, as a council, are we going to measure the effectiveness of Publica?” he added.

Former Conservative council leader Lynden Stowe, and current CDC cabinet member, said: “The cut in government fund which we are planned to get between 2013 and 2020 is £2.7m a year.

“52 per cent of government's funding will be withdrawn.

“So, there is an inevitable need to make savings. This council has a first-class record of retaining services while making savings.”

He said the council would be £14million worse off if it wasn’t for the joint partnerships it has set up since 2007.

“Publica actually safeguards frontline services, it safeguards jobs, it actually delivers resilience and it increases our knowledge base,” he said.

He went on to say, this has been in the pipeline for more than three years, with plenty of opportunity for concerns to have been raised.

Cllr Mark Annett, leader of CDC, said: “We have to grasp this nettle and move forward as quickly as we can.

“Carry out our role as members to make sure it does work and to question things as we go.”

Cllr Mark Harris said the Lib Dems were not criticising the move itself, but felt “it is our duty to robustly question it”.

“I am particularly concerned about communication. I want to be treated as a councillor not as client or a customer, albeit we are becoming customers of Publica.

“I really am concerned about the identity of the Cotswolds.

“It sends a terrible message out if it's Publica delivering services as opposed to CDC. It almost removes accountability.”