Thank you to everyone who voted in the West Oxfordshire District Council (WODC) elections on Thursday 5' May. The elections were for 16 (one-third) of the 49 council seats that make up the Council but no single party ended up with an overall majority, that is, 25 members or more. The Conservatives lost seven seats but still emerged as the largest with 20 followed by the Liberal Democrats (15), Labour (9) and the Greens (2). And there are three independent councillors. Building on undeclared pre-election tactical pacts and the "Fair Deal Alliance" agreement struck after the County Council elections last year, the leaders of the three left-wing parties formed an Alliance to secure a wafer-thin working majority to administer the Council. There will be an election in May next year for another third of the seats so it will be interesting to see if this Alliance lasts. My term expires in May 2024 along with another third of members.
So, what are my predictions for the civic year ahead? The budget has already been set by the last Conservative-led administration and approved without opposition from the other parties. Yet, expect the Alliance to vilify the previous administration and the Central Government while trying to wriggle out of budget discipline. The track-record of fragile coalitions in government points to chronic internal squabbles over power, resources and pet policies which often means they find it hard to say no to more spending plans. As a worrying sign of things to come, the first decision the Lib Dem Leader of the Alliance has taken was to increase the size of his executive team (cabinet) from six councillors to nine; thus a 50% increase in allowances and expenses. His justification was that this would deliver better services to residents and improve communications. But the reality is that the productivity of the bloated Cabinet will be one-third lower and that is the cost to taxpayers of the necessary adhesive to glue the Alliance together. The fractures will emerge when the Alliance comes to set its first budget next year.
I will keep a watchful eye on how your hard-earned taxes are spent and work with my colleagues to safeguard the long-term sustainability of the Council's finances. As voters, you are entitled, nay, urged, to hold your councillors to account for their pledges, such as, developing a light railway between Carterton and Oxford, forcing Thames Water to stop the release of raw sewage into our rivers, reducing the rate of house building in WODC's Local Plan, providing genuinely affordable homes, securing infrastructure before development, and taking stronger action on climate change. Remember when President Trump used to promise to build a beautiful wall and make Mexico pay for it? Well, I doubt the Alliance is able to deliver any of that no matter how long you give them. Instead, when election slogans encounter the stark reality of government, and when those fantastical promises have to be ditched quietly, there will follow a familiar blame-game of passing the buck and widespread cynicism.
Cllr Alaa Al-Yousuf
District Councillor for Freeland & Hanborough Ward