Conservatives retain control of council that covers Banbury after opposition alliance talks fail

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The Conservative group has retained control of Cherwell District Council following the breakdown of an alliance between opposition groups.

At last night’s (Tuesday May 23) reconvened Annual General Meeting, Cllr Barry Wood was re-elected to lead the council with a minority administration after he defeated the Labour group's Cllr Sean Woodcock in a leadership vote.

Cllr Wood received 21 votes in favour of his leadership, and Cllr Woodcock received 11. A total of 10 councillors from the Progressive Oxfordshire group - which is made up of an alliance between the Lib Dems, Greens, and Independents - chose to abstain from taking part in the vote.

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The Progressive group will now form the official opposition as the second-largest group represented in the council, following the collapse of talks between themselves and Cherwell’s Labour group last week.

Cherwell Conservative Cllr Barry Wood as been re-elected as the leader of Cherwell District Council.Cherwell Conservative Cllr Barry Wood as been re-elected as the leader of Cherwell District Council.
Cherwell Conservative Cllr Barry Wood as been re-elected as the leader of Cherwell District Council.
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After winning the vote, Cllr Wood formed the executive that will run the council’s business, using his Conservative councillors and appointing Cllr Adam Nell as deputy leader.

Cllr Barry Wood said: “Leading a minority administration on an important council is completely different to a majority position. I want to reach out to councillors of all parties and none to build as much consensus as we can over the coming twelve months.”

The Labour Party has expressed frustration at the results of the leadership vote and believes the Progressive Oxfordshire group’s decision to abstain has gone against the Cherwell voters decision to oust the Conservative council.

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The leaders of the four biggest groups represented within Cherwell District Council, Cllr Barry Wood, Cllr Ian Middleton, Cllr Sean Woodcock and Cllr David Hingley.The leaders of the four biggest groups represented within Cherwell District Council, Cllr Barry Wood, Cllr Ian Middleton, Cllr Sean Woodcock and Cllr David Hingley.
The leaders of the four biggest groups represented within Cherwell District Council, Cllr Barry Wood, Cllr Ian Middleton, Cllr Sean Woodcock and Cllr David Hingley.

Cllr Sean Woodcock said: "At the recent set of elections, the residents of Cherwell delivered a damning verdict against the local Conservative-run council and the Conservative Government.

"As the second largest party on the council, Labour councillors took our democratic responsibility seriously and attempted to form an administration. However, the so-called Progressive Oxfordshire group, made up of Lib Dems and Greens, took the decision to abstain tonight on the crucial choice of who should be the next leader of the vouncil.

"Not only did this deny their residents a voice in who runs the council, but it also gifted power back to the Conservatives. They will have to explain this decision to the people who voted for them, hoping they would support change in Cherwell. Whist we are obviously disappointed, we will continue to work tirelessly to scrutinise the minority Conservative administration to deliver the best deal for our residents and the people of Cherwell."

The members of the Progressive group have talked of their disappointment with the Labour group for pulling out of the arranged coalition between the two groups shortly before the start of last week’s meeting, but they remain hopeful that future talks between the groups will result in forming a majority group to take control of the council at some point over the next year.

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Speaking after the meeting, Green group leader and deputy leader of the Progressive Oxfordshire Group Ian Middleton said: "Greens are bitterly disappointed that we have not been able to fulfil our promise to the electorate and take joint control of the council from the Conservatives.

"We apologise to residents for that, but Labour made it impossible to agree on an equitable deal that they would have been a significant part of with 50 per cent of the executive seats. We only asked for one seat on a 10-seat executive, which was proportionate in view of us making up slightly more than 10 per cent of the total alliance.

"Having originally agreed to this arrangement, Labour suddenly pulled the plug, citing diktats from their national executive, which local members have capitulated to. Considering this will also cut Labour out of an alliance as well as joint leadership of the council, this seems incredibly short-sighted. It seems Labour would rather allow a minority of 20 Conservatives to stay in control of the council than accept one Green on the executive. They also demanded that Labour should be leader, which none of the Progressive Oxfordshire Group were comfortable with considering Cllr Woodcock’s disingenuous statements in the media surrounding the collapse of talks.

"The door is still open for Labour to come to their senses and agree a fair deal with us to take control of the council at any point during the year. In the meantime the Conservatives plans, including further green belt erosion as part of their local plan and a lack of genuine affordable housing will be resisted to the best of our ability. We hope Labour will at least join us in supporting that endeavour."

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This was echoed by the Liberal Democrats leader Cllr David Hingley, he said: “We remain very disappointed with the outcome this evening. The Conservatives are on borrowed time. At any point, if Banbury Labour group can persuade their political masters in the Labour NEC to see sense, together we can remove the Tories and create a majority progressive alliance. Our door remains open”.