Independent Councillor breaks with Tories over Council cuts

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Independent Councillor Lynda Atkins withdrew from the Oxfordshire County Council’s Conservative Independent Alliance on Monday over the proposed cuts to elderly and children’s services.

Speaking to the BBC, Cllr Atkins said that she joined the Alliance in 2013 “to ensure that we had a stable administration for Oxfordshire”. She said that part of the agreement was that the independent members would support the Conservative budget. However, Atkins said that the spending cuts proposed in the Conservative budget mean it “simply offers no hope to the people of Oxfordshire.” She decided to offer support for the Labour group’s budget proposal instead.

The spending cuts have proved controversial. Councillors say that £361m worth of savings are required between 2010 and 2020. The Council Leader, Ian Hudspeth (Conservative) has said that this are due to funding reductions from central government. But the Prime Minister, David Cameron, who is the MP for Whitney, wrote to the Council and expressed “disappointment” at the proposed cuts to elderly and children’s services. His mother and aunt have also publicly opposed the budget.

Atkins’ formal resignation email sent to the Alliance states: “the budget put forward by the opposition will meet the needs of residents across Oxfordshire and in my Division far, far better than the one you have proposed … it will save the Health and Wellbeing Centre and will delay the closure of the Children’s Centre in Wallingford for long enough for a local alternative to be put in place if we can secure local agreement. …  The opposition budget will also offer at least some hope of a continued bus service for residents in Long Wittenham who will otherwise be marooned in a village with no access to health services, shops, libraries or any other of the many basic services they rely on.  They are far from the only people across the County who are in that situation.”

Given the thin majority that the Alliance enjoys, Atkins stated that she did not make the decision lightly. Commenting on the value of being an independent councillor, Atkins told the Oxford Student: “I hope this demonstrates the value of having at least some independent members of any political body.  It is much easier if one is elected as an independent to resist going along with everyone else in a group:  no one was able to tell me that I was elected under a party banner and thus I had a duty to do as the party told me.”

Atkins entered the County Council at a by-election in 2008. Securing 65.6% of the vote, the result was a swing from the Liberal Democrats. At the local elections in 2009, she was re-elected with a reduced majority, but still managed to hold over half the vote. In 2013, she took the largest share of votes at 44%. She has long been a town councillor at Wallingford and is serving as its mayor this year. Before entering politics, Atkins was a Flight Lieutenant in the RAF and a Captain in the Territorial Army; in July 2015 became the first chairwoman of the Oxfordshire Royal British Legion.

Cllr Hudspeth has been contacted for comment.

Image: David Dixon (CC BY SA 2.0)

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