DevComms Director Charles Bushe looks ahead to what is likely to be a lively meeting of Oxfordshire County Council  this week.

At its full council meeting tomorrow (Tuesday, July 14) Oxfordshire County Council (OCC) will debate a motion put forward by leader Councillor Ian Hudspeth that suggests its 2021 election should be postponed until 2022.

Cllr Hudspeth, (Conservative) believes a Government White Paper on local authority reorganisation could include a new unitary authority for Oxfordshire, to replace the existing local authorities. If this were the case, elections for the new unitary may be required in 2022.

As such, the motion by Cllr Hudspeth is ostensibly to prevent the need for two elections within 12 months of each other but, unsurprisingly, the non-Conservative controlled local authorities and councillors across Oxfordshire are unhappy with the proposal which they believe would be bad for democracy.

The leader of Labour-controlled Oxford City Council (Cllr Susan Brown) categorised the motion as ‘extraordinary’, and leading Liberal Democrats across Oxfordshire, such as Cllr Sue Cooper (leader of South Oxfordshire District Council) and Cllr Emily Smith (leader of Vale of White Horse District Council), have stated in a joint letter that voters should be ‘allowed to choose who is making decisions that will affect us all during these uncertain times’.

The wider context to this discussion is that Oxfordshire has already seen co-operation across local authority boundaries, with the county-wide Oxfordshire Growth Board, Oxfordshire Growth Deal and OxLEP. Some in Oxfordshire may be looking, with envy, over the border towards the more formalised arrangements in Buckinghamshire, where the new Buckinghamshire Council came into effect from April this year.

Politically, the Conservatives have taken a hit across Oxfordshire in recent times, losing control of South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse in 2019, whilst also having their majorities chipped away at in Cherwell and West Oxfordshire where they lost four seats respectively (whilst retaining control).

Although the political landscape has changed markedly since May 2019, with the Conservatives’ decisive win in the 2019 General Election and the Covid-19 crisis, which polarised opinions in many areas, delaying the election may be an attractive option for Conservatives in Oxfordshire.

Notwithstanding this, if the election does go ahead next year, many would still expect the Conservatives to retain control on a county-wide basis.

Whatever the motivation for the motion actually is, we can be sure that the debate on Tuesday will be a lively one. No doubt many leading and local members across Oxfordshire will have something to say on Wednesday morning, irrespective of the position eventually agreed.

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