Author Archives: Liz Leffman

Our first year in office

It is now just over a year since I became leader of Oxfordshire County Council following momentous May 2021 election results that changed the political landscape in the county and led to the formation of the Oxfordshire Fair Deal Alliance, led by the Lib Dems in partnership with the Greens and Labour.

The intervening period has proved to be one of real achievement but also huge challenges – indeed the list of national and international developments since spring 2021 alone is quite breath-taking. All of them have had an impact in one way or another on our daily lives and budgets and on the services that we provide locally.

The recent publication of our Annual Performance Report for the 2021/22 council year provides a reason to pause and reflect on what has happened since the Fair Deal Alliance took on the running of Oxfordshire County Council.  We are immensely proud of what we have been able to achieve in such a short time, and the following are just a few examples of our work as Lib Dem led county council.

One of our top priorities on forming our administration was to put action to address climate change right at the very heart of our work. We’ve launched a pilot for Britain’s first zero emission zone in Oxford.  We’ve won a bid for 159 new electric buses which will serve Oxford and its surrounding areas.   We’re delighted that more than 70 villages and some urban areas throughout the county have signed up to request their streets are reduced to 20mph speed limits after an initiative we agreed last Autumn. We have been ranked as a gold tier council in Uswitch’s first annual Green Council Report, which looks at the commitment of local authorities to be more environmentally sustainable

Tackling inequalities in Oxfordshire is another priority that we wanted to focus on immediately. Our award from Stonewall for promoting LGBTIQ+ inclusion in our workplaces and our nomination in the Local Government Chronicle (LGC) awards for the innovative initiatives in our equalities, diversity and inclusion framework show that we are becoming nationally recognised for such work.

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A New Fair Deal for Oxfordshire

A couple months of ago, Oxfordshire changed. For the first time in 16 years, the Conservatives no longer had a majority on the County Council and instead, an alliance was formed between the Liberal Democrats, the Green Party and the Labour Party to form an administration.  We named this the Oxfordshire Fair Deal Alliance, and I was elected the Leader of the new council.

For many years, I have been asked by voters why the opposition parties can’t work together to effect change. In the Witney by-election of 2016, Robert Courts won 45% of the vote – why, I was asked then, did Labour, the Greens and the Lib Dems not get together and offer an effective and united challenge, breaking the Conservative dominance of local politics?  Perhaps that might have worked, but at the time, that was not an option.  But now, maybe things have started to shift.

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A way forward for the English Party

Since late 2016, the English Party has been reviewing its structure and governance. This was initiated following the consultation conducted by the Federal Party following the 2015 General Election, which revealed some considerable criticism of the English Party for a lack of transparency and accountability.

The English Party established the English Review Group towards the end of 2016, with members drawn from each of the 11 English Regions. This is chaired by Sally Symington, who has not previously been a member of any of the English Party committees. She was recommended for her common-sense approach, her fresh eye, and her experience …

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Opinion: We need to grab our current luck and champion the Lib Dems

Far too often, information about the work our ministers are doing reaches us, and the general public, through a cloud of white noise created by the media. The information that we local activists get from Lib Dem HQ can be drowned out by what we read and hear elsewhere. It’s often difficult to tease out our ministers’ achievements in government from the work of the government as a whole. But in the past few weeks we seem to have found a way of dispersing our uncertainty and showing the public that we stand for something tangibly different from our coalition partners.

The discussion about energy policy offers a way of unlocking the conundrum we have faced for the past two and a half years. How do we remain constructive partners in coalition, while reassuring voters that we are different from the Tories?

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