THESE are the first pictures from Oxfordshire County Council's first face-to-face meeting since the pandemic began.

Oxfordshire councillors had to sit at a distance from one another in a huge sports hall as they met for their first face-to-face council meeting.

County councillors returned for their first in-person meeting on Tuesday, May 18, because special rules allowing them to meet virtually expired at the start of the month.

All 63 councillors gathered in Banbury's Spiceball Leisure Centre sports hall.

Because of social distancing rules, they sat spaced apart from one another, filling the hall from front to back.

Oxford Mail:

The meeting was still live streamed for members of the public to watch via Microsoft Teams.

The sound quality of the meeting was different to the virtual discussions of the past year, with voices echoing throughout the sports hall.

Not all councillors were happy with having to return to face-to-face meetings, with some thinking that continuing with virtual meetings would be more efficient and sustainable.

The Local Government Association has claimed that one in-person meeting last week for Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council cost an extra £6,000 because of special Covid secure arrangements.

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Liam Walker, the returning Conservative member for Hanborough and Minster Lovell described this as 'utter madness' on Twitter.

He added: "This is money councils should be spending on services and not meetings when there is a perfectly viable option available that we’ve been using for over a year."

Also on Twitter, the new Lib Dem county councillor for Abingdon North, Nathan Ley, was concerned about the health risks of face-to-face meetings

He described it as 'being forced to take risks with my health because the vaccine rollout hasn't got around to me yet'.

As the meeting began, chairman Les Sibley stood down from his role, with his deputy John Howson being nominated to fill the role going forward.

The chairman acts as a referee for the council and chooses which councillors speak during debates and discussions.

Oxford Mail:

Political group leaders thanked the outgoing chairman Mr Sibley for his time in the role.

Eddie Reeves, the leader of the council's Conservative group, said of Mr Sibely: "There are those who have held their office who have been well liked as they come to the end of their term and those who have been universally well liked as they come to the end of their term. And you, chairman, fall squarely into that second category."

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In a change of ceremony to adhere to Covid rules, when Susanna Pressel was nominated as the deputy chair of the council, she had to pick up and attach her chain of office herself.

The chain would normally be attached by a fellow councillor or member of staff, but had been sanitised and left on the table in front of her instead.

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