Climate-or-kids clash reveals rift at heart of county council
Cllr Eddie Reeves to County Council ruling alliance: “I guess by implication you are prioritising climate over children.”
By David Tooley, Local Democracy Reporter
Politicians holding the reins of power in Oxfordshire clashed with their opponents over whether they put climate change ahead of helping vulnerable children.
Since the Lib Dems, Labour and Greens formed their Fair Deal Alliance after May’s elections they have been piecing together their policy priorities – with action on climate change highly prominent.
Councillors grilled members of the cabinet on their Fair Deal for Oxfordshire at a meeting on Friday (July 16). The document is due to be ratified by the cabinet tomorrow Tuesday (July 20).
Chairing the performance scrutiny committee, opposition leader, Cllr Eddie Reeves (Cons, Banbury Calthorpe) said: “You haven’t mentioned children in any respect.
“I guess by implication you are prioritising climate over children.”
He added: “Resources are finite so it’s a prioritisation of the climate agenda over and above which other services?”
Cllr Ian Corkin (Cons, Ploughley) said: “It is right that the county council should seek to lead but its ability to move the dial on environmental issues is in truth in the main vanishingly small.”
But council leader Cllr Liz Leffman (Lib Dem, Charlbury & Wychwood) agreed that the “devil is in the detail of what we actually achieve.”
She said the council is “laying out our stall” in advance of council officers looking in more detail over the summer.
“We are being very ambitious but it is not an either or when it comes to tackling climate change and the other things we want to do,” she added.
The committee heard that budgets could be shuffled to pay for what the Alliance priorities.
The question of how the council will pay for its priorities was also raised.
Cllr Callum Miller (Lib Dem, Otmoor), the cabinet member for finance said there were options other than bigger increases in council tax.
“There are opportunities to raise revenue and we will be exploring what opportunities are there,” he said.
Their policies will include “working in partnership with the community, the private sector and voluntary organisations in order to achieve what we want to achieve,” he said.
Cllr Reeves asked: “Is your preference that we increase council tax over and above inflation, or to build more homes? I’m struggling to see how the pie might be grown.”
Cllr Miller replied that he is “hopeful that the chancellor and the prime minister will fulfill the commitments they made to the country.”
But Cllr Ian Middleton (Green, Kiddlington South) wants the council to look for ways to do things rather than finding ways they can’t.
“Children want us to tackle this,” he said. “It’s their future we are fighting for here – we won’t be around when the planet is burning and when life on this planet becomes pretty unpleasant as we are already starting to see.”
The cabinet member for climate change delivery & environment, Cllr Dr Pete Sudbury (Green, Wallingford), said: “We can’t wait until 2070 to tackle it.”