I DID IT MY WAY: In his own words, the outgoing county council leader Keith Mitchell reflects upon his colourful County Hall reign (From Bicester Advertiser)
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I DID IT MY WAY: In his own words, the outgoing county council leader Keith Mitchell reflects upon his colourful County Hall reign
6:00pm Tuesday 15th May 2012 in News
With the county council’s 100th apprentice Nazaha Begum, celebrating a drive to take on more young people
IT HAS been a long road from May 6, 1989, when I first fought and won the Bloxham seat. I have contested and held it every four years since.
I joined a horribly hung county council. It is difficult to believe now but the three parties held about a third of the seats each.
They were in a permanent state of opposition to each other and, I thought, to the council itself.
Officers did their best to navigate a way through this political minefield but it was difficult and decisions could take a very long time.
Above all, there was no strategic direction; no sense of the council’s values and objectives.
I served as the Conservative social services spokesman from 1995 until 1999, when Councillor Charles Shouler stood down as Conservative leader and I was elected in his place.
Leading a group is not an easy task; members are very different, representing a broad range of opinions. The leader’s role is to secure group consensus and to identify clear policy directions.
In 1999, the Labour government decided councils should move to a different model of governance. We opted for the cabinet and leader model but were unclear how to do it in a hung council.
Group leaders held endless bilateral discussions. I quickly put down a marker, saying my group would not serve in a “rainbow coalition”.
That was accepted and the question then was which two groups could work together, having recently fought an election with conflicting pledges? This took some time. However, we put together an agreement with the Liberal Democrats and, as a forerunner of the Cameron/Clegg show in 2010, we formed a coalition.
The doom-mongers said it would not last and a number of my political colleagues were very angry, saying we would never win control having “got into bed with the Liberals”!
We proved them wrong and, in 2005, we secured an overall majority of 12 and increased it to 14 in a by-election. In 2009, we grew the majority to 30 and that is where we are now.
In 600 words, I cannot list all of our achievements but we have turned this council from a weak performer to one that is recognised nationally for excellence.
We saw Oxford Castle completed and opened by the Queen in 2005. We completed the “hamburger” roundabout at Headington on time and on budget. We cleared the bus stops out of Queen Street and have negotiated a landmark, joint-ticketing arrangement with the bus companies.
We supported a programme of academies before they became national policy. We have put significant funding into social care to meet demographic needs. Despite the cuts, we have found a solution that keeps all of our libraries open.
We have worked hard with partners to grow Bicester’s economy and to make growth jobs-led rather than housing-led.
We have a successful county-based Local Enterprise Partnership. I think our biggest success is in our partnership working.
In the 2007 Birthday Honours, HM The Queen appointed me a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire for services to local government.
This was a hugely proud moment for me but, more important, a recognition of the high standing of the county council.
It has been a huge privilege to lead the council for 10-and-a-half years. I have enjoyed working with members and officers.
Looking forward, my next few weeks will feel very strange, moving from a 24/7 job running a huge business to a back-bencher. I am confident the new team will maintain Oxfordshire’s high standing in the country and I wish them well.
See tomorrow’s Oxford Mail as new leader Ian Hudspeth sets out his vision for the future