The county council has a “diversity problem” and needs to do more to make its culture more welcoming to “working parents”, a councillor has warned.

Arash Fatemian, who represents the Deddington ward, said diversity at the council had “become worse” since he first joined in 2009, and he pointed to the council taking a series of “retrograde” steps which made the prospect of entering politics “more daunting” for young professionals.

The council has withdrawn broadband provision and car parking at county hall is now less accessible for councillors with young children, Mr Fatemian revealed.

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Oxford Mail: Councillor Arash FatemianCouncillor Arash Fatemian (Image: Ed Halford)

Mr Fatemian said: “Diversity at the county council has got considerably worse and they’ve made it more difficult for that diversity to be represented.

“I’m really sad the progressive alliance has decided to withdraw the parking provision for councillors from county hall.

“Oxfordshire has very limited public transport provision outside of Oxford and life will now be more difficult for councillors who have to work and who have children to drop off at school.”


Oxford Mail: Sign up to Ed Halford's free weekly Politics newsletter here Sign up to Ed Halford's free weekly Politics newsletter here (Image: Newsquest)

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Mr Fatemian said it was right councillors made “some sacrifices” to participate in public life but criticised the council for penalising young professionals who found more hurdles were shoved in the way.

A county council spokesman has said there are only 11 car parking spaces at the front of county hall and the aim is to make these more accessible for those who most need it, including blue badge holders and those experiencing mobility difficulties.

The spokesman said: “Councillors still retain the ability to book a car parking place in advance if they need it, and that includes councillors who need to drop off children.”

Mr Fatemian, who has two children and works as a strategy consultant, said he suffered from “impostor syndrome” when he joined the council and said that not enough was being done to make political office more financially viable.

He said: “The withdrawal of broadband provision is a retrograde step.

“The council should be doing everything it can to encourage wider participation in local politics, not making it more difficult.

Mr Fatemian said the council was dragging its heels on encouraging diversity.

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He said: “Older councillors bring experience and another perspective which is really valuable so our council shouldn’t be full of young people.

“However, there is a very noticeable lack of young and working parent councillors.

“The council needs to stop setting the bar so high which means it is only accessible to wealthy retired people.”

A council spokesman said the removal of broadband allowance will affect only eight of 63 county councillors.

The spokesman added: “This change was agreed by the political group leaders at the county council.”

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Mr Fatemian also called for “more diversity within political groups”, as he found the council was far too “tribal”.

In order to learn more about cabinet members’ experience and expertise, the Oxford Mail reached out to every cabinet member and asked them the following questions: ‘When did you first enter politics?’, ‘How long have you lived in Oxfordshire and whereabouts in the county do you live’ and ‘What expertise and previous experience do you have which helps you carry out your brief as a cabinet member?’.

Councillors Liz Leffman (council leader), Liz Brighouse (deputy leader of the council and cabinet member for children, education and young people’s services), Glynis Phillips (cabinet member for corporate services), Jenny Hannaby (cabinet member for community services and safety), Andrew Gant (cabinet member for highway management), Duncan Enright (cabinet member for travel and development strategy), Calum Miller (cabinet member for finance), Tim Bearder (cabinet member for adult social care) and Michael O’ Connor (cabinet member for public health and inequalities) all failed to reply.

Pete Sudbury, cabinet member for climate change delivery and environment, was the only member of the cabinet who responded.

Mr Sudbury said he first entered politics in a by-election in 2019.

The cabinet member has lived in Oxfordshire since he first started clinical medicine in 1983 and lives in Woodcote.

Mr Sudbury said he has a wide range of experience which equips him to carry out his specific role.

He said: “I have a first degree in Natural Sciences, which lets me read and evaluate climate-related scientific papers.

“I’ve got an MBA and 20 years experience leading teams, programs and organisations in the NHS, including 12 years at Executive Board level.

"That helps with managing people and navigating systems, strategic planning, working effectively with county officers and with fellow cabinet members and other councillors.

“I’ve always been inquisitive, I love learning new things, and have lots of experience of innovation and changing the way people think and work...that’s pretty much the task in tackling climate change.”

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A county council spokesman said: “Equality, diversity and inclusion is at the heart of everything the council does.

“The council has an ‘Including Everyone’ framework and annual action plan in place and has had some notable successes, including securing a place in Stonewall’s top 100 employers list of 2023.

“However, there is always more that can be done.

"Feedback and ideas from councillors, employees and residents are always welcome.

“The council is also proud of its strong flexible working culture. It offers a host of enhanced family friendly policies including carers leave and paid time off for volunteering.”

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Ed specialises in writing political stories for the Oxford Mail and The Oxford Times. 

He joined in the team in February 2023, after completing a History undergraduate degree at the University of York and studying for his NCTJ diploma in London.

Ed’s weekly politics newsletter is released every Saturday morning.