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Leader’s statement – 18 May 2022

Cllr Emily Smith, Leader of Vale of White Horse District Council, delivered her Leader’s statement to Council at the meeting on 18 May 2022.

Welcome to Cllr Povolotsky

I am delighted to welcome Cllr Sally Povolotksy to our council as the new member for Steventon and Hanneys Ward following her successful by-election campaign. I would like to thank Matthew Barber on behalf of residents and the council for his service as a ward councillor, and council leader for seven years. Thanks also to our excellent returning officers and elections staff fort their smooth running of the election.

Elsewhere in the county the Liberal Democrats and Greens made significant gains in May’s elections, resulting in a new Lib Dem, Labour and Green alliance administration at our neighbouring West Oxfordshire District Council. I look forward to working with Cllr Andy Graham through the Future Oxfordshire Partnership and on crucial matters for Oxfordshire such as agreeing sustainable levels of growth for our county, ensuring district councils have a voice in the development of Integrated Care Services and tackling the climate emergency.

Cabinet Changes

I would also like to thank Cllr Catherine Webber, who has decided to step down from cabinet to spend more time with her increasing number of grandchildren and focus on her ward work in Marcham. Cllr Webber was this council’s first cabinet member with a remit focused on tackling the climate emergency and has successfully worked tirelessly to ensure the climate agenda is embedded in all this council does.

To build on her work, I have appointed Cllr Povolotsky to the Cabinet as the new Cabinet Member for Climate Emergency and Environment.

Cllr Catherine Webber with Cllr Sally Povolotsky

I am making some small changes to cabinet portfolios which take effect from today; Cllr Fawcett will be taking on responsibility for Economic Development, Cllr Thomas will be taking on Customer Services, Cllr Roberts will be taking on Major Planning Applications and Strategic Sites, and Cllr Hallett will be taking on Democratic Services. These changes will be reflected in a refreshed scheme of delegation and on the public website.

National Recognition for Climate Work

Another appointment of note is that of our deputy CEO for Place, Suzanne Malcolm to the Local Net Zero Forum, which will be chaired by a minister from the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS). Suzanne was asked by the District Councils Network to represent all district councils from across the country at this new national forum, created in response to the Communities and Local Government Select Committee report on the vital role of councils in the country achieving net zero.

Being offered this opportunity is a clear vote of confidence from BEIS and the DCN in the work this council is doing on the climate agenda, as well as in Suzanne as a professional who is leading on this work for our council and the Future Oxfordshire Partnership. Congratulations Suzanne.

Joint Local Plan Consultation Underway

A significant part of our action plan to tackle the climate emergency is about strengthening planning policy. We have reached another milestone in the creation of our new Local Plan this week with the launch of our first Regulation 18 consultation. This consultation is about the issues that the public want our planning policies to address and I hope that the interactive nature of the consultation tool we are using encourages a greater diversity of people to get involved with shaping our plans for the district. I ask that members help spread the word about this consultation that is open until 23 June.

Going to and choosing option 1 in the How to Take Part section will take the user to the interactive website and option 2 asks the same feedback questions but records a bit about who is responding to help monitor the demographics of those taking part.

Providing Community Infrastructure

I was really pleased to join Cllr Roberts last month at a celebration to mark the start of construction of our first Oxfordshire Community Land Trust development. After many years of work by OCLT volunteers, Vale officers and councillors and other partners, construction work has now begun on eight affordable homes for rent in Cumnor. This low carbon development will provide much needed affordable homes for people on our housing register.

Developing new ways to provide truly affordable housing continues to be a priority for my administration, as is using all the levers we have available to provide social infrastructure for our communities as they grow. Recent examples of where this council has been able to secure funding to enable facilities such as the new pavilion under construction in Kingston Bagpuize, and the work to refresh the Didcot Garden Town delivery plan to ensure Homes England funding is use to benefit local people is really encouraging.

Cllr Emily Smith and Cllr Judy Roberts at the OCLT site

Support with Energy Prices

I would like to thank officers who, on top of their regular tasks, are working to process the £150 council tax rebate scheme designed to support households with increasing energy costs. £8 million has already been paid to more than 54,000 households across the Vale of White Horse and South Oxfordshire who pay their council tax by direct debit. Those who are eligible but do not pay by direct debit will receive a letter explaining what to do and should receive their funds by 4 July.

Of course, this scheme is not available to everyone who is struggling with rising fuel and food costs, and I was extremely disappointed that the government did not include further measures in the Queen’s Speech to support families finding it increasingly difficult to afford food and heating. I call on the government to do more to address this increasing cost of living crisis, but in the meantime, anyone who needs information about support available can contact our partners, the Citizens Advice Bureau or Vale Community Impact. There are also information and links on the Vale’s website for anyone struggling to pay their council tax.

Supporting Guests from Ukraine

And finally, I want to say a huge thank to everyone at the council and across district for the incredible welcome that you have shown those fleeing war in Ukraine.

Our housing team, with support from officers from across the council have carried out hundreds of house checks to ensure accommodation is suitable and safe. And we have just appointed two new Community Liaison Officers (CLOs) who will work with Asylum Welcome and help community groups to support Ukrainian guests who are settling in households across our districts, providing information, advice and guidance and liaise with local authority support teams across Oxfordshire, to build a support framework for refugees that need it.

The generosity of local people offering accommodation and other support is heart-warming and very much appreciated.