Council covering Banbury has been left without leader as alliance talks break down

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Cherwell District Council has been left without a leader after alliance talks between Labour, Greens, independents, and the Liberal Democrats broke down.

The full council meeting on Wednesday May 17 saw Conservative councillor Barry Wood lose a vote of confidence over his position as council leader and Labour councillor Sean Woodcock lose a vote on his proposal to lead the council.

The district council’s 48 seats are split between 19 Conservative councillors, 16 councillors belonging to the Progressive Oxfordshire group, which consists of Liberal Democrats, Greens, Independents and 12 Labour councillors.

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This means that no party has an overall majority lead in the council, but the Conservatives remain the biggest party represented.

Talks between the Progressive Oxfordshire and Labour groups in Cherwell District Council has broken down leaving the council without a leader.Talks between the Progressive Oxfordshire and Labour groups in Cherwell District Council has broken down leaving the council without a leader.
Talks between the Progressive Oxfordshire and Labour groups in Cherwell District Council has broken down leaving the council without a leader.

With no leader elected and no obvious solution to the disagreements between the Progressive group and the Labour group, the meeting was forced to be adjourned for a week in the hope that a compromise will be made.

Cllr Sean Woodcock, the Labour group’s leader in Cherwell, believes that the Conservative’s Barry Wood has lost the backing of local residents and that his group, as the second largest single party, would regain the support of Cherwell citizens, although he is unsure of what the next steps are for the fragmented council.

He said: "Clearly the Conservatives have lost the trust of not only people across the country but Cherwell, so Barry Wood remaining as leader is totally unacceptable. But Labour, as the largest opposition party, provided an alternative in myself, and all of the other parties, including the so-called 'progressive ones' voted against that.

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"Those were the only two proposals on the table, so I'm not really sure what happens next, to be frank."

Cllr David Hingley, the leader of the Liberal Democrat group in the council, hopes that the week-long break will give the smaller parties time to draft together an agreement in order to resolve their issues and form a council.

He said: "On Wednesday evening, the Progressive Oxfordshire group of Liberal Democrat, Green, and Independent councillors on Cherwell District Council voted consistently against the formation of a minority Conservative administration, while rejecting attempts by the Labour group to form a minority administration of their own as unsustainable.

"The results of May’s local elections that put the district into no overall control show a clear move by the electorate against the Conservatives who have been in charge in Cherwell for decades. Progressive Oxfordshire and Labour councillors had been concluding an alliance that would have reflected the outcome of that very clear steer from residents, until Labour walked away at the eleventh hour."Following the adjournment of the Council meeting on Wednesday, a non-Conservative majority alliance is still on the table if Labour wish it."

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The Green party group within the council was equally confused by the last-minute breakdown of the alliance and believes that the breakdown is going against the wishes of voters at the recently held local elections.

A spokesperson for the Cherwell Green party said: "We are bitterly disappointed that after a huge amount of work, negotiation, and compromise between our parties, Labour have decided to pull the plug on a controlling alliance at the 11th hour. During the election, we all made a pledge to local residents that we would do whatever it takes to remove Conservative control in Cherwell, as has happened on all other district councils across the county.

"We believe that voters gave all opposition parties a mandate to do this, with some spectacular results in the local elections. I'm therefore at a loss to understand why Labour, who would have had a significant role in a controlling alliance, seem content to allow the Conservatives to form a chaotic minority administration, when a coalition may have better served the people who voted for us".

We have approached Cllr Barry Wood for comment but have not yet had a reply.

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But that at meeting, the Conservative leader spoke about the alliance failing and proposed that a smaller Tory-led council was a better option than letting the residents of Cherwell down by being unable to work as a council.

He said: "The coalition talks between the Progressives and Labour failed, failed, failed, with no chance of being rekindled. Cllr Woodcock is certain they cannot be rekindled, and there is no going back, there is no other solution.

"So what we have to do as a council and what we still owe to the people who work for us and the people who live here and rely on this council for services is to at least be able to control ourselves. If there is no working coalition, then the largest party should serve as a minority administration."