Oxfordshire County Council holds face-to-face meeting in Banbury sports hall - names new leaders and cabinet

Oxfordshire councillors had to sit at a distance from one another in a huge sports hall as they met for their first face-to-face council meeting since the pandemic began.

Tuesday, 18th May 2021, 2:12 pm
Updated Tuesday, 18th May 2021, 2:28 pm
Image from Oxfordshire County Council's first face-to-face meeting since early 2020, which took place at Banbury's Spiceball Leisure Centre, socially distanced, as the regulations allowing councillors to meet virtually expired at the start of May (Image from David Lynch)

County councillors returned for their first in-person meeting today ( Tuesday, May 18), because special rules allowing them to meet virtually expired at the start of the month.

All 63 councillors gathered in Banbury’s Spiceball Leisure Centre sports hall.

Because of social distancing rules, they sat spaced apart from one another, filling the hall from front to back.

63 socially distanced councillors wore masks for the first Oxfordshire County Council meeting since the elections in the sports hall at the Spiceball Leisure Centre in Banbury (Image from David Lynch Twitter)

The meeting was still live streamed for members of the public to watch via Microsoft Teams.

The sound quality of the meeting was different to the virtual discussions of the past year, with voices echoing throughout the sports hall.

Not all councillors were happy with having to return to face-to-face meetings, with some thinking that continuing with virtual meetings would be more efficient and sustainable.

The Local Government Association has claimed that one in-person meeting last week for Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council cost an extra £6,000 because of special Covid secure arrangements.

Liam Walker, the returning Conservative member for Hanborough and Minster Lovell described this as ‘utter madness’ on Twitter.

He added: “This is money councils should be spending on services and not meetings when there is a perfectly viable option available that we’ve been using for over a year.”

Also on Twitter, the new Lib Dem county councillor for Abingdon North, Nathan Ley, was concerned about the health risks of face-to-face meetings

He described it as ‘being forced to take risks with my health because the vaccine rollout hasn’t got around to me yet’.

As the meeting began, chairman Les Sibley stood down from his role, with his deputy John Howson being nominated to fill the role going forward.

The chairman acts as a referee for the council and chooses which councillors speak during debates and discussions.

Political group leaders thanked the outgoing chairman Mr Sibley for his time in the role.

Eddie Reeves, the leader of the council’s Conservative group, said of Mr Sibely: “There are those who have held their office who have been well liked as they come to the end of their term and those who have been universally well liked as they come to the end of their term. And you, chairman, fall squarely into that second category.”

In a change of ceremony to adhere to Covid rules, when Susanna Pressel was nominated as the deputy chair of the council, she had to pick up and attach her chain of office herself.

The chain would normally be attached by a fellow councillor or member of staff, but had been sanitised and left on the table in front of her instead.

New administration

A new administration has been formed at Oxfordshire County Council following the May 6 elections.

The final shape of the council following the election count was: Conservative 22 seats; Liberal Democrats 21 seats; Labour 15 seats; Greens three seats; Henley Residents Group one seat and Independent councillors one seat.

A total of 32 of the 63 seats are required to form a majority and no one individual party reached this number.

The Liberal Democrat, Labour and Green groups have now agreed to form a new administration.

The new leader of the council will be Cllr Liz Leffman, the Lib Dem councillor for Charlbury and Wychwood.

The deputy leader will be Labour Cllr Liz Brighouse (with responsibilities for education, children’s services and youth services).

Other cabinet member appointments are as follows:

Cabinet Member for Corporate Services: Councillor Glynis Phillips

Cabinet Member for Community Services and Safety: Councillor Neil Fawcett

Cabinet Member for Climate Change Delivery and Environment: Councillor Pete Sudbury

Cabinet Member for Travel and Development Strategy: Councillor Duncan Enright

Cabinet Member for Highway Maintenance: Councillor Tim Bearder

Cabinet Member for Public Health and Equality: Councillor Damian Haywood.

Cabinet Member for Finance: Councillor Calum Miller

Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care: Councillor Jenny Hannaby