Councillor Sean Woodcock, Leader of the Labour Group on Cherwell District Council
Councillor Sean Woodcock, Leader of the Labour Group on Cherwell District Council

“As you know, this is a public health emergency. These are unusual times, so I’m asking for an unusual effort.”

Dame Louise Casey, who was appointed by the Prime Minister to tackle homelessness, in the wake of the Coronavirus outbreak said that.

Indeed these are unusual times. The like of which none of us have ever seen, and would all hope not to see again. Unusual efforts are being made by people across the country including our district.

So I want to, again, thank all the front-line staff of our National Health Service throughout this pandemic.

I also want to, again, thank the people working in care homes looking after the most vulnerable people in the face of this killer virus.

I want to, again, thank those who volunteered over the course of the pandemic. Those who delivered food and medicine whether for neighbours, or just other people they didn’t know because they wanted to do what they can.

And I thank, again, the staff at Cherwell District Council for their incredible efforts during the last few months. They did everything that was asked of them and more.

I also want to say that I am sorry. Because what is happening is a betrayal of all of your efforts.

They were told to get rough sleepers off the streets with two days notice. They did it.

They were told to help contact those shielding across the district and keep them safe and supported. They did it.

They were told to help provide financial support to businesses, community groups and charities across our district. They did it.

They were told to do all of this and that this government would ensure that they would not lose out, that the costs would covered. But the government broke that promise.

And for this reason, Cherwell had to pass a ‘Special Budget’ last week.  The failure of the government to honour its promises on COVID-19, forced a mid-year rethink to save the council going bust.

The controlling Conservative group will say that it is not hitting front line services but this masks what is being cut.

  • Investment in greener lighting as part of the battle against climate change.
  • Funding to bring forward affordable means of home-ownership.
  • Recruitment of another community warden, at least this year, to help keep our community safe.

I spoke up and I spoke out, to lead councillors, to our Member of Parliament and in the press. But it’s happening.

I know that other councillors, including those from the ruling Conservative group, have also spoken out.  That is to their credit because this is too important to play politics with. They pointed out how councils face a “financial apocalypse” or an “existential threat” as a result of the government’s broken promises. I agree with them.

Now, the government targets our community again. Threatening an unnecessary local re-organisation at a time when our focus should solely be on keeping our community safe and helping our economy to recover.

For that reason we in Labour could not support the budget. As a rebuke to the government. It is a budget built on broken promises and on the backs of our community’s efforts and suffering.

And we could not back that.

Bicester Advertiser column from Councillor Sean Woodcock, Leader of the Labour Group on Cherwell District Council

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