In just a week’s time, people will cast their ballots in what might be the most overshadowed election in living memory.

For more than a month before Britain faces a snap General Election on June 8, there will first be local elections on May 4.

But voters should pay attention – in Oxfordshire, this contest will decide which party controls the county council. Up for grabs are 63 seats across 61 divisions.

And at the moment, the Conservatives hold 31, Labour 15 and the Liberal Democrats 11, with two held by the Greens and four by independent councillors.

This means no party currently has an overall majority. In the aftermath of the 2013 elections, this led the

Conservatives to form an alliance with two independent councillors so they could govern. 

On May 4, that situation could change. The Conservatives are aiming to enlarge their majority. 

The timing is unprecedented, as it is taking place during a General Election campaign.

That is sure to have a direct effect on voters, as parties trade blows and make promises over the airwaves.

In Oxfordshire, there will also be questions about decisions taken by the Conservative administration.

Several controversial cuts have been made by the county council over the past four years in efforts to balance the books, perhaps most controversially a £6m reduction that pulled funding from 31 of 44 children’s centres.

The county council faced a strong campaign from parents who were against this. It has since encouraged communities to try and keep under-threat centres open and many areas have taken up the offer of some transitional funding. 

The axe also fell on bus subsidies, which caused bus companies to close almost half of the 118 subsidised routes.

The county council argues it has had to make ‘difficult decisions’ as it faced up to savings of almost £380m since 2010. 

The budget in 2016 was, unusually, backed by all political parties - except the Green Party's two councillors. But expect opposition councillors from Labour and the Liberal Democrats to make the case they would have done things differently.

There are also revenue raising ideas on the table, such as a workplace parking levy in Oxford. First proposed last year, this would tax businesses for each parking space they have at their premises.

It could raise millions each year, but the county council is now carrying out a study to see if it could work.

So far Labour has strongly supported the levy, with the Liberal Democrats saying they may favour a congestion charge.

But despite approving papers that move the council closer to adopting a levy, the Conservative group has yet to take a position and say they will await the outcome of the study.

Another issue – which has proved almost as divisive as Brexit – is also likely to dominate campaigning.

The question of whether Oxfordshire should get it’s own ‘super council’ has been hotly debated for the last three months and the Government will be watching closely to see if a decisive result comes out of this election.

The super council would replace all six of the biggest councils, including the county council, with one single organisation covering all of Oxfordshire.

Supporters – all of the county council political groups, except the Greens – argue this would save £20m a year and make the system easier to understand.

But opponents say it would be too unwieldy and less representative of local views. 

The Labour Party is also split over the idea, with county councillors in favour but most city councillors strongly against – claiming it amounts to a ‘land grab’.

Voters can make their views clear at the ballot box, with polling stations will be open from 7am to 10pm on May 4. 

The result will be announced the next day.

In the 2013 election for Oxfordshire County Council, no political party won overall control of the local authority.
The number of seats won was:

  • Conservatives – 31
  • Labour – 15
  • Liberal Democrats – 11
  • Independent – 4
  • Green Party – 2

This represented a loss of 13 seats for the Conservative group, with the gains mostly going to Labour, the Lib Dems and independent candidates. The Greens also gained one seat.

This meant the Conservatives had to form an alliance with two independent councillors, Mark Gray (Benson and Cholsey) and Les Sibley (Bicester West). Linda Atkins (Wallingford) was also in the group but has since left.

The Conservatives will be seeking to enlarge their majority this time round so they do not have to rely on independent votes anymore to pass budgets and major decisions. All 63 seats on the county council will be up for grabs when voters go to the polls on May 4.

There are 61 divisions in all, including:

  • 14 in Cherwell
  • 14 in Oxford
  • 12 in South Oxfordshire
  • 11 in Vale of White Horse 
  • 10 in West Oxfordshire

Polling stations will be open from 7am to 10am across the county. 

For the elections in 2013, turnout was 30 per cent according to the county council. This year election chiefs said they hope that figure improves, amid fears it could be hit by the General Election on June 8.

Martin John, of Oxford City Council, said voters’ decisions would ‘shape the future of Oxford and the UK’.