A BID by the Conservative leader of Oxfordshire County Council to delay next year’s local elections has been thrown out after uproar from councillors.

Enraged councillors had been primed today to debate whether the May 2021 elections should be delayed until 2022 in light of upcoming Government plans.

Those plans could see Oxfordshire’s different councils deleted and replaced with a single ‘super council’ covering the whole county.

Tory leader Ian Hudspeth said last week he thought holding elections next year would be costly and unnecessary if they were to be followed by the Government’s planned overhaul of local councils.

READ AGAIN about the 'unacceptable' plan to delay elections here

However after both Labour and Lib Dem opposition groups said it was unacceptable to delay local democracy, his proposal to the council was changed ahead of today's meeting.

Instead, as the full council met virtually, it was presented with the option of calling for an ‘open and wide-ranging conversation’ to take place between Oxfordshire County Council and the different local districts so they could influence a merger before the Government makes a final decision on how it will play out.

Mr Hudspeth himself was unable to attend the meeting, as he had become ‘unwell’ the night before and was taken into hospital.

The council said it expected him to be out in a matter of days, and said he did not have the coronavirus.

Banbury Cake:

Deputy leader Judith Heathcoat

In his place, deputy leader Judith Heathcoat presented the plans and said the Oxfordshire’s different councils were ‘no longer financially sustainable’ due to the coronavirus pandemic, and a merger could be an opportunity to save local taxpayers money.

READ about the council leader's absence here

The amended proposal also demanded that the extra costs it incurred during the pandemic to be paid, on request from the council’s Labour group leader Liz Brighouse.

In Oxfordshire, the county council runs social care, repairs the roads, and gets rid of rubbish; the district councils, including Oxford City Council, decide planning applications, rent out council houses and collect the bins.

Together they are all facing a nearly £100 million funding shortfall because of the coronavirus pandemic, though the Government has given out grants to cover some of this.

Councillors agreed to write to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to ask him ‘to honour the Government promise to reimburse councils for the additional expenditure incurred because of Covid-19’.

Though they unanimously agreed to take part in a discussion about possibly merging services, the debate was far from one-sided.

Kieron Mallon, Conservative councillor for Bloxham and Easington, welcomed the plan to merge councils, saying the current system was ‘antiquated and mind-boggling’ and that residents did not understand the different services they provided.

He also warned that proper discussion of Oxfordshire’s future was needed, and said: “Reform is coming to local government. We must be part of it or it will be done to us.”

Also read: What do you think of the new face mask rules? Take part in our poll

Emily Smith, Liberal Democrat councillor for Abingdon North, said she supported the motion but was worried about bringing together the separate issues of extra funding needed after the pandemic, and reorganising of local councils.

Her Lib Dem colleague for Kennington and Radley, Bob Johnston, said he thought merging councils into one authority was a good opportunity to stop housing developers from ‘playing an iniquitous game’ with neighbouring councils.

Last week, Mr Hudspeth said he thought Oxfordshire was the only area where a delay to elections was being considered in light of a Government white paper on English devolution, which could see councils merged.

But since then it has emerged that councils in other parts of the nation are facing similar conversations, including in Surrey, Yorkshire and Somerset.

Banbury Cake:

Mr Hudspeth speaking to the BBC

The leader of the Labour-run Oxford City Council Susan Brown said she was pleased to see the plan to delay elections had failed, after describing it as ‘extraordinary’ last week.

Ms Brown said: “I have now asked for a meeting with Government jointly with other leaders to ask them about how they can help us best deliver against the different needs of residents in the city and elsewhere.

“Oxford city is very different to the rest of our very rural county and we will want to ensure that Oxford’s voice remains fully represented.”

A group of Oxfordshire-based planning and environmental experts called POETS welcomed discussions around changing local government.

A spokesman for the group said: “There are good arguments for a proper look at changing the arrangements for how local government is organised in Oxfordshire. But cancelling elections is the worst possible way to start a discussion about the subject if you want to gain public trust.”