TWO councillors have explained why they failed to turn up for a key meeting which involved setting this year’s council tax.

Independent Working Class Association councillors Stuart Craft and Jane Lacey were both missing during a crucial vote to determine Oxford City Council’s budget for the upcoming year.

The city’s elected members were prepared for more than four hours of lengthy budget negotiations on Monday as opposition groups hold more seats on the council than the ruling Labour administration.

The vote on the authority’s above-inflation tax rise of 4.5 per cent was tied with 22 Labour Councillors voting for it and 22 opposition councillors voting against.

As a result, opposition parties did not have the chance to debate the merits of their alternative budgets, because the casting vote went to Oxford Lord Mayor and Labour councillor Susanna Pressel.

In total, three councillors did not attend the crucial meeting, including Liberal Democrat Clark Brundin, who was recovering from a knee replacement operation. He sent his apologies before the meeting. Mr Craft and Mrs Lacey, who both represent Northfield Brook in the Leys estate, did not send apologies for failing to attend.

Mrs Lacey said she was looking after her 78-year-old father, who had been suffering problems brought on by a heart condition.

She said: “I make no apologies for my commitment to my family before anyone or anything else. I don’t have to justify my family commitments to anyone.”

Mrs Lacey added she would have voted for Labour’s budget proposals.

Mr Craft said he did not attend the meeting as he was working a 12-hour shift at Oxford Bus Company.

He said: “Unfortunately as a genuine working class councillor, I have to work.

“I could have taken unpaid leave, but I can’t afford to and I have already used up all my lieu days on council business.”

Green councillor Sushila Dhall said: “The budget meeting is the most crucial meeting of the year. The fact that Stuart did not turn up was disrespectful to the people of Oxford.”

Ms Dhall who balances her work as a city and county councillor with the pressures of a being a single mum and working part-time, added: “We all know of full council meetings well in advance and I’m sure Stuart could have approached his boss and negotiated a change of shift.

Gordon Roper, chairman of Blackbird Leys Parish Council, said: “I’m very disappointed. Any councillor that doesn’t attend these council meetings lets their constituents down.”