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.

Making decisions that prioritise the health and wellbeing of residents was a priority we set ourselves in 2021 and that’s been highlighted through work such as launching a new stop smoking service, which supports our aim of making the county smokefree by 2025.  An ambitious transformation of how we deliver social care has resulted in a 44 per cent reduction in the number of people waiting for social care assessments. Our aim is to enable people to live well in their community, remaining fit and healthy for as long as possible. The success we have achieved reflects the impact of community-based solutions, the strength of partnership working with the voluntary sector and our commitment to supporting carers and the social care system.

We’ve also invested £5m to increase the supply of supported housing for people with learning difficulties and/or autism and we have partnered with homeless agencies, jointly allocating £3.8m a year to support people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. This is with an ambition to end rough sleeping in the county by 2025.

Creating opportunities for children and young people to reach their full potential is something to which we’ve sought to bring a strong focus. We launched a special educational needs strategy consultation with parents and carers to gather a view of service need across the county. We’ve provided an additional 385 primary, 140 secondary and 124 special educational needs places over the past year, as well as embedding a new Youth Service across the county.

The year ahead promises a similarly ambitious programme of work to address inequality, support our residents during the cost of living crisis, tackle climate change and continue to deliver the nine strategic priorities which form the basis of our agreement with the Greens and Labour. This includes a countywide food strategy to make Oxfordshire’s food system more sustainable and affordable; a digital inclusion strategy to tackle the digital divide and improve opportunities for residents to get involved in education, employment, community activities and health services; and our ongoing work to deliver a modern, efficient, reliable, affordable and sustainable transport system for Oxfordshire.

The contrast between what we have achieved and what our predecessors were doing is testimony to the difference that Lib Dem led councils can make to their local communities, and by this time next year, there will be even more to celebrate.

 

 

* Cllr Liz Leffman is the Leader of Oxfordshire County Council.

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