A councillor championing housing standards in Cherwell was accused of an “unwarranted flounce” having walked out immediately after criticising a new policy.
Councillor Sean Woodcock (Lab, Banbury Ruscote), who leads the Labour group on Cherwell District Council, accused the ruling Conservatives of “wrecking” a motion – a statement that guides the principles behind future council policies – he put forward before Christmas.
It had laid out his vision for a new charter for all housing tenants, but Councillor Nick Mawer (Con, Bicester North and Caversfield), Cherwell’s portfolio holder for housing, put forward changes at the time.
They included limiting proposed minimum standards to the council’s own tenants and replacing Councillor Woodcock’s call for a public awareness campaign “encouraging tenants to be aware of their rights” with a commitment to “engage with registered social and private landlords to seek improvements in standards in line with those this council will adopt”.
The amended version was passed and has shaped ideas behind a tenants’ charter, which the council’s report says will aim to “set out a new service standard that all tenants can expect to receive from the council whilst they are living within properties the council manages”. Registered social and private landlords will be urged to “seek improvements in the services that they are providing”.
Introducing plans to draft the charter, Councillor Mawer said it would “look to address the relationship between the tenant and their housing provider” to ensure that issues are acted upon and council properties are free from damp and mould.
He added: “We won’t just share our charter with registered landlords but encourage them to adopt it as a template.
“The council will also work to engage positively with private landlords operating within Cherwell to ensure they are supported to meet their obligations to improve the relationship between landlord and tenant, but also to hold them to account for poor practice now and in the future, using our role and powers that we have in regard to enforcement.”
However, Councillor Woodcock claimed the charter “bears no resemblance” to his proposal. “What was passed was a wrecking amendment,” he said.
“Frankly, that shows the administration has no intention or interest and is not serious about tackling issues affecting the vast majority of tenants in Cherwell.
“The administration is not serious about it, Labour is, and with that, I bid you good evening.” He left the chamber immediately.
Councillor Woodcock had registered to speak but had no formal duties to fulfil at the meeting and would not typically be expected to attend without a specific reason to, but the nature of his exit left Councillor Mawer aghast.
“I am absolutely gobsmacked by what Councillor Woodcock has said. It is just not true; it is an absolute load of rubbish,” he said.
“This council is deadly serious about what we are proposing, and the implications are not just about our tenants. Although they will be the first, those 180 households, the whole district will benefit from this.
“I am amazed Councillor Woodcock has not had the courtesy to stay to listen to our response. It is really poor and does not reflect well on him or the Labour group.”
Deputy leader Councillor Ian Corkin (Con, Fringford & Heyfords) added: “In my years of sitting here, I have never seen such an unwarranted flounce.
“I spent some time, back in November, preparing with the housing team for an appearance at the select committee (Reforming the Private Rented Sector inquiry), and I can’t tell you how serious the team here is about delivering for tenants, particularly that large group in the private sector.
“The only frustration that team has is that they can’t go further and faster because the legislation doesn’t currently allow it.
“I have a lot of respect for Sean, but we are coming into the electoral cycle. The comments tonight did not do any service to the commitment this authority has to those who live in rented accommodation. Some things should be beyond a tweet or a headline.”