Local Elections are upon us, and once again Banbury, Bicester and North Oxfordshire residents are asked to choose those who will represent them in local government. Many in our community will be feeling the pressure of a year of pandemic worries, lockdowns and economic turmoil. Local elections are often eclipsed even in normal times, and with media coverage focused on the pandemic response, London mayoral election and the Conservative corruption scandal in Westminster few will have time to give a thought to assessing local candidates, or even voting at all. Here’s why you should!
The Conservative County, District and Town councillors across North Oxfordshire have majorities of a few hundred at best. In many places Labour candidates have run much closer in past elections, especially the Banbury Hardwick division for Oxfordshire County Council, which the Conservatives won with a majority of just 55 in 2017!).
Your vote could make the difference between Labour and Conservative control of the local councils – especially Oxfordshire County Council and Banbury Town Council.
But why should you care – all councillors are the same, right? Just rubber stamping national government policy?
Council decisions affect many aspects of our community, including transport, planning, recycling arrangements and the operation of many local facilities. Labour councillors have fought tooth and nail for their constituents since the last election. They fought the decision to close the Bradley Arcade Surgery in Bretch Hill, and repeated attempts to quintuple HGV movement along a major Banbury thoroughfare (apparently encouraged by the Conservative District Council majority). Even during this election cycle, Labour councillors have been supporting the Banbury workers threatened by Fire-and-Rehire at the JDE coffee plant.
Even where councils don’t have much influence, the majority party can put a lot of pressure on the local MP or national organisation to address issues. That’s if they choose to do so. Here in Banbury constituency we have been “blessed” with both a Conservative MP whose role in Westminster is mostly rubber stamping government directives with no though to the effects on her own constituency, and Conservative council majorities who – even though they freely admit national policies are harming our community – refuse to hold our MP or the government to account. It is left to Labour councillors to standing up for their constituents and highlighting concerns in the face of Conservative recalcitrance.
Way back in April 2020 Councillor Sean Woodcock, the Labour Opposition Leader on Cherwell District Council (and candidate for the County Division of Calthorpe on Thursday), highlighted the issue of a local government funding crisis (causing by the government reneging in its promise to properly cover the council funding shortfall due to the pandemic) to our MP, Victoria Prentis. Ms Prentis responded to the warnings by writing a letter and then largely ignoring the matter. Months later after further warnings including from Councillor Shaida Hussain, Ms Prentis at least appeared to engage with the issue, although with no change in national policy. The result? Last September, both Oxfordshire County Council and Cherwell District Council were forced to make substantial cuts to investment and community funding.
It is a budget built on broken promises and on the backs of our community’s efforts and suffering.
Councillor Sean Woodcock, Labour Opposition Leader on Cherwell District Council (candidate for the County Division of Calthorpe, and for Ruscote on Banbury Town Council this Thursday)
Figures released last month show that local councils have spent £7.3bn extra on services due to coronavirus and have lost income of over £5.6bn, giving a total cost of £13bn. Even after government support is taken into consideration, councils still face a funding gap of almost £5bn against a total annual spend of £45bn. When reports revealed the staggering £2bn extent of crony contracts at the heart of the Conservatives Coronavirus response, and a former permanent secretary of the Treasury described the Government’s £37bn Test and Trace system as ‘the most wasteful and inept public spending programme of all time’, one would think our local Conservative council might consider standing up for local services. Nothing but crickets.
“This government can find billions for a test and trace system that doesn’t work, millions for a shiny new briefing room for their press office, and even gave Dominic Cummings a 40% pay rise, yet when it comes to supporting Cherwell in tackling Coronavirus they tell us the cupboard is bare.
Whether it’s incompetence or just the wrong priorities the truth is this government always leaves Cherwell at the back of the queue. We are facing a £3.2m blackhole here in Cherwell, local government across the country is now £5bn in the red thanks to Coronavirus in spite of government promises to support us every step of the way. Yet at the same time Conservatives can find £2bn in crony contracts for their mates.”
Shaida Hussain, Labour’s Deputy Opposition Leader at Cherwell District Council (candidate for Banbury Town Council on Thursday)
The Labour group on Cherwell District Council also raised the issue of Child Poverty in the district over the last summer, pressing the Conservative ruling majority to change their failed strategy. The resulting debate was an ugly demonstration of Conservative councillors lack of empathy on this issue. With many families feeling the bite of lockdowns, furlough, job losses and rising food prices, under-privileged children will be among the most affected by a failure to address this issue. Now children in Oxfordshire are set to lose out on over £1.1m in extra support for children on free school meals thanks to an administrative sleight of hand that will see tens of thousands of disadvantaged children across the country ignored. Again, local Conservatives said nothing.
“The Conservatives can afford a 40% pay-rise for Dominic Cummings and £2bn in crony contracts for their mates, but when it comes to support for disadvantaged children in Oxfordshire, they are cutting every corner they can find.
The £1.1m our children are missing out on, while this country throws billions after billions at a test and trace system that hasn’t worked, means missing out on the laptops, lessons and support they need to catch-up after a truly terrible year.
It beggars belief that this government thinks it can use an accounting con to short change children in Oxfordshire. They have the wrong priorities and they are making the wrong decisions – time for another u-turn, now.”
Mark Cherry, Labour Councillor for Banbury Ruscote on Banbury Town Council, Cherwell District Council and Oxfordshire County Council (and candidate for the same on Thursday)
When the Horton Health Oversight and Scrutiny Committee voted to drop the pursuit of further legal challenges against the decision to remove consultant-led maternity services at the Horton General Hospital, it was only the Labour representatives who opposed that decision. The loss of services leaves those in Banbury and the surrounding villages stuck with a daunting journey to access specialist services (and be reassured of the availability of consultant-only interventions like epidural anaesthetic) at the John Radcliffe hospital in Oxford. The move also affects Bicester residents, limiting the options of those concerned about the frequent traffic issues and delays on the A34. Councillor Hannah Banfield urged the committee to “remember we have a moral obligation to our constituents, and Banbury is a growing Town”, but Councillors Banfield and Woodcock were out-voted.
“As elected councillors and citizens of Banbury, both myself and Councillor Woodcock are extremely disappointed and bewildered that the other elected members of the Horton HOSC committee choose not to fight for a judicial review. Their decision will have a negative impact on the lives of most of our citizens now and in the future.”
Hannah Banfield, Labour Councillor (and candidate in the elections on Thursday) for Banbury Grimsbury & Castle on Oxfordshire County Council, and for Banbury Cross and Neithrop on Cherwell District Council.
Ultimately, if you want your local councillor to fight for your interests – vote for a Labour candidate. If you want national politicians to listen to local concerns, you need local government representatives that will work to hold them accountable – vote for a Labour candidate.
Our candidates are local residents who are standing because they believe North Oxfordshire deserves better. As candidates, as sitting councillors and as part of nonpolitical local groups they have campaigned for better infrastructure and transport, better services, safer communities, and to address deprivation and environmental issues. They are teachers, local businesspeople, charity workers, . They are residents, and they care – and that’s why we’re asking for your vote.