Richmond Council has struck a deal to merge services with Wandsworth after Thames Agreement discussions with Kingston stalled last year.

Richmond chief executive Gillian Norton will retire in summer 2016 and Wandsworth chief executive Paul Martin will take over the position for both councils.

Richmond had planned to merge services with Kingston under the Thames Agreement but talks were suspended in December.

At the time, Kingston Council leader Kevin Davis said the delay was "no big deal". 

But he added: "If we don't share services with Richmond then we would share them with someone else."

Earlier this week, it was revealed Kingston had been holding talks with the Department for Communities and Local Government for the past six months, about becoming the first local authority to break free of government funding restrictions. 

Lord True, leader of Richmond Council, said today: "With the country continuing to borrow at a disturbingly high rate, every part of the public sector will be called upon to make further savings, whoever is in Government after May.

"Richmond cannot be immune.

"We have already made savings of £30m over the past four years; we know we need to make the same again in the period to 2018.

"We have said - and residents strongly support this - that we wanted to do as much of this as possible by sharing management costs with others."

Surrey Comet:

Councillor Ravi Govindia, leader of Wandsworth Council, said: "The time is now right to make further savings 'behind the scenes' whilst helping to ensure Wandsworth’s residents enjoy the same levels of key services as they do now.

"I very much welcome the chance to work closely with Richmond.

"We have in common some of the highest resident satisfaction levels in the country, top quality services and, of course, Conservative administrations.

"By working together we can tap into more opportunities for savings and innovation that will mean better outcomes for residents."

Surrey Comet:

Leader of the opposition Councillor Stephen Knight said: “I had absolutely no idea of this. This has obviously been put together very, very rapidly, and they have agreed Gillian is to retire.

“My initial response was shock because I had no idea this was coming at all.

“I don’t know if we have much in common with Wandsworth, an inner London borough.

“Financially the boroughs are very dissimilar. If both boroughs are paying for a chief executive, how is that going to work out?

“I just think culturally the two boroughs are so far apart residents will not see this as something they want to happen.

“I don’t really feel that the council should be making such a huge decision like this without going to the public first.

“I don’t think there’s a synergy between Wandsworth and Richmond in the same way there was between Richmond and Kingston. I don’t think the match is as good and the two boroughs have very different levels of tax.

Which councils in SW London pay the most in council tax?

“There are all sorts of questions about whether this can work.

“I don’t think this is a change the council can make without putting it before the electorate in a referendum.

“If you want to do something as radical and irreversible as this then you have to put it before the public.”

The shared staffing arrangement, which it is hoped will save up to £10m each year for tax-payers to preserve front line services, will take effect from March 2017.

Under the proposals, the two councils would be managed by a single chief executive, Paul Martin.

Richmond's director of finance and corporate services Mark Maidment will be appointed deputy chief executive and director of resources.

The new structure would be implemented after the retirement of Ms Norton and Wandsworth deputy chief executive and director of finance Chris Buss.

Both councils would continue to operate as sovereign bodies with its own elected councillors, cabinets and leaders.

The proposals will be discussed at meetings of both councils in the coming months.

Richmond Council intends to announce its annual budget in March.

Kingston Liberal Democrat leader Liz Green said: “As a council Kingston has been hung out to dry. Kevin [Davis] was saying that the Thames agreement was not dead – that it was just suspended and they were going to pick up talks again about it.

“I don’t think they knew anything. It will be a shock to Kevin.

"How it leaves our budget for the next financial year 2016/17 – it is a worry.

"Richmond is the best partner for us on some services so where does that leave us? It is completely up in the air again.”

She added the merger may have implications for Kingston and Richmond’s shared social enterprise, Achieving for Children.

Coun Green said: “There was always a possibility of it involving Richmond, Kingston and Wandsworth but we said no. We had to get it up and running with Richmond and Kingston.

“The other possibility was always a long way away but I don’t know what it means for Kingston now – we need to ask those questions."

Kingston Labour leader Linsey Cottington said: “I suspect that Richmond Council was not completely open with Kingston because the negotiations with Wandsworth must have been going on at the same time.

“My understanding is that Kingston wanted the negotiations to be carried on at a sensible pace over several months. Richmond was obviously impatient but also very keen to team up with a big inner London council.

“It’s back to the drawing board for our Tory administration.”

Bruce McDonald, chief executive of Kingston Council, said: “When the suspension of the Thames Agreement was announced we said that Kingston and Richmond would continue to be strong partners, but we would also look to work with others.

“We continue to partner Richmond in a range of services, some of which include more than our two boroughs. Importantly we are partners in Achieving for Children - the community interest company we founded together to secure the best possible outcomes for children in our two boroughs.

“We wish Wandsworth and Richmond well in the venture announced today.

"Kingston looks forward to working with all our partner boroughs in south London including Richmond and Wandsworth.”

Coun Davis said: "We wish them [Richmond] well in negotiating and shall watch with interest. 

"This does not change anything for Kingston as we will continue to work with Richmond on various projects and continue to seek further opportunities to collaborate with them in the future."