THIS week the Oxford Mail is speaking to candidates from the different political parties standing to win power on Oxfordshire County Council on May 6. Today, Liz Brighouse, who leads the council’s Labour group, sets out her stall.

Mrs Brighouse said her party was emphasising the need to invest in social care not run by big private companies, to provide more mental health support for young people, and to listen to people who had struggled throughout the pandemic so far.

The Labour leader said: “Right through the pandemic I have been calling up people and taking to them in my division; it is about trying to understand. We all have different lived lives, we are all different individuals.

“Being able to try and understand and put yourself in others’ shoes is important, and we can only do that if we take the time to listen to them.”

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Listening to communities is the first of four pledges in the Labour Party’s Oxfordshire election manifesto, with the aim of creating council services which ‘better fit’ the needs of the population.

The party has also called for council services which have been outsourced to private companies through lucrative contracts to be brought back in-house or managed differently.

The group’s manifesto describes the spending on these as ‘wasteful’ but Mrs Brighouse was under no pretence that the council would have the staff or cash needed to start running these services again once contracts were up.

She said: “The policy is to bring it all back in-house again... for instance if care homes go bust, and they do, we need to look at these issues whenever they come up.”

Social care

As part of this drive, Labour is also calling for new ways of providing social care to people across Oxfordshire to be explored, which would no longer rely on large private firms providing an expensive service.

Labour’s Mrs Brighouse said: “There is so much of the commercial sector that makes money for individuals that is solely funded by the taxpayer and I do think we really need to get a grip on that.”

Liz Brighouse, the Labour group leader at Oxfordshire County Council, is currently campaigning for the May 6 elections. 20/04/2021 Picture by Ed Nix

Instead, the Labour leader said co-operatives and social enterprises could be used to provide care in the county.

She suggested care workers may be able to work together without a company overseeing them, with funding provided by a county council contract in place to pay their salaries, but said studies into alternatives like this needed to be done before any decisions were made.

Mrs Brighouse added: “It is about looking and testing these ideas against our principles.”

The Wood Farm councillor began her life in politics in the 1970 campaigning for funding for nursery education, before being elected to the county council for the first time in 1981.

She has served more than 20 years as a councillor since then, and is a director of the umbrella organisation for local charities and community groups, Oxfordshire Community and Voluntary Action.

Children's mental health

But education has remained a close passion for the Labour politician, and in the county manifesto her party is calling for greater support for children living with mental health problems.

She said: “Mental health problems are rampant in young people at the moment.”

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Multiple studies over the last year have found that young people in particular have suffered from complex mental health issues due to the pandemic, and the Government is creating an ‘action plan’ to address this.

Mrs Brighouse added: “It is about how we support schools, how we stop exclusions, how we make sure young people are getting the education they need to grow up into successful, happy adults.”

More cycling and walking

On transport, the final pledge in the Oxfordshire Labour manifesto, the group has promised it would ‘do better’ than the current administration.

She added a shift towards public transport and more people walking and cycling was needed to reduce congestion on crowded roads and pollution.

While the party has already thrown its support behind better cycling lanes and schemes like Low Traffic Neighbourhoods, its leader also said services like the dial a ride bus needed to be revived.

She said: “We need this more personalised transport. If you are older and cannot walk to the bus stop, you could be picked up at your own doorstep.”