'Perhaps one of the worst meetings in 20 years': Banbury councillor speaks about attempts to oust county council leader

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Oxfordshire County Council politicians have reacted to attempts to oust the leader of the county, with one Banbury councillor describing the chaos as “perhaps one of the worst council meetings” he had witnessed “in 20 odd years of being a councillor”.

County councillors met up at county hall in Oxford on Tuesday (June 9) this week to hear questions from members of the public and motions brought forward by different parties.

The contentious motion that caused a lot of the chaos was proposed by the Labour group, specifically councillor Liz Brighouse, and called on the council leader Liz Leffman to resign.

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Ms Brighouse said among the shortcomings of the current Lib Dem-Green-led council were its failure to “keep members and parents abreast of its improvements to its SEND (Special Educational Needs) provision” as well as its “perceived conflict of interest on the lease of ‘the Triangle’ to Oxford United FC”.

Cllr Kieron Mallon has said that Tuesday's county council meeting was 'perhaps one of the worst council meetings that I have witnessed in 20 odd years of being a councillor.'Cllr Kieron Mallon has said that Tuesday's county council meeting was 'perhaps one of the worst council meetings that I have witnessed in 20 odd years of being a councillor.'
Cllr Kieron Mallon has said that Tuesday's county council meeting was 'perhaps one of the worst council meetings that I have witnessed in 20 odd years of being a councillor.'

The motion failed to pass and saw Ms Brighouse and Ms Leffman both subjected to personal criticism.

Conservatives, as well as the Green and Lib Dem councillors, pointed out it had not been long ago that the Labour group itself had also been a part of the coalition’s “rainbow alliance”.

Speaking after the meeting, Conservative county councillor Kieron Mallon, who represents the Bloxham & Easington division, said: “It was an unedifying spectacle – following the fallout between both Liz Leffman and Liz Brighouse and their two groups.

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“We had very important issues to discuss – the SEND and the school transport issues which the public clearly thought were the most important things that we needed to debate which was evidenced by the massive amount of public speakers who wanted to tell us what they thought.

“The fact that the county council’s IT completely failed and many of those people couldn’t relay their thoughts to us followed by the squabbles of the Labour and Liberal group meant it was perhaps one of the worst council meetings that I have witnessed in 20 odd years of being a councillor.”

Katie Nellis, aged 16, who said she had “been in the SEND system for six years”, came out to the meeting to share her thoughts before the motion was discussed.

Ms Nellis said: “Motions like this will not help sort out the problems.

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“SEND should not be political and motions like this are preventing you from dealing with it as you should.

“I am not trying to attack or defend any personal party but it is slightly hypocritical of councillor Brighouse to bring up the problems in the SEND system given that she was cabinet member for children and young people’s services at the time these failings took place.

“I just want you all to stop playing politics with our lives and futures. Please do better.”

Labour councillors at the meeting justified the motion and its concern about the minority administration.

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Councillor Brad Baines, of the Isis division, said: “This is an administration that blames others rather than taking responsibility.

“Ideology and dogma are prioritised ahead of long-term public interest.”

But Independent county councillor Damian Haywood, who resigned from Labour last year over SEND, was unimpressed.

He said: “Although I agree with some of the points made by the Labour group, especially by Councillors Phillips and Enright, regarding how a minority administration should operate and how communication needs to improve, much of the debate was far too personal, something I am intending to discuss with the chair, and undignified for a chamber elected by residents of Oxfordshire.

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“The motion itself was uncalled for, we are ten months from an election, disrupting the leadership at this time only harms operations of the council, putting services into turmoil, when we need cohesion and delivery.”

Concern about the personal nature of discussion comes as Ms Leffman had described a reaction from Ms Brighouse ahead of her party leaving the alliance last year as “one of uncontrolled rage”.

Ms Leffman added: “You decided to take your group out of the alliance.

“You accosted one member and yelled at other members.”

Ms Brighouse gasped at the claim and later said: “The leader launched straight into a personal attack.

“I feel I have been slandered.”

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Green councillor Ian Middleton agreed the motion was “unhelpful” but suggested some of the comments from Conservatives were the “usual hyperbole”.

Oxford city councillors also weighed in with their thoughts on the motion with Liberal Democrat group leader Dr Chris Smowton saying the “move to throw the county council into chaos is irresponsible, and plays directly into the Conservatives’ hands”.

Rose Hill and Iffley ward city councillor David Henwood, of the Independent Oxford Alliance (IOA), added: “Labour’s attempt to distance itself from the controversial ZEZ and LTN schemes, which have faced significant backlash from residents, is widely seen as a sign of panic.

“The party has lost a substantial number of votes since the 2019 general election, and the IOA is determined to capitalize on this in the upcoming May elections.”

The Local Government Authority says “all councils are required to promote and maintain high standards of conduct by councillors” and we have contacted the organisation for further comment on this.