Humber authority loses its leader - Ray Oxby resigns from North East Lincolnshire Council

By Grimsby Telegraph | Posted: 12 Mar 2019

Ray Oxby has resigned as leader of North East Lincolnshire Council.

He has also stepped down from his role as a councillor for Grimsby's South Ward and as a member of the Labour party.

Mr Oxby has based his decision on 'challenges to his health brought on by pressures as leader of the council' and abuse he has received from the public following the Toll Bar roundabout decision. That single item has provoked a huge backlash, with site protests and banners and boards outside Grimsby Town Hall, as the authority changes the junction at the southern entrance to the borough to one controlled by traffic lights. 

Mr Oxby at the 2018 North East Lincolnshire election count, which will be his last. 

His resignation takes immediate effect and comes just days after it was revealed police were investigating an incident in which he reversed his car into his own garden wall. He subsequently missed Lord Lamont's address to Hull and Humber Chamber of Commerce, and was not present at the Prime Minister's speech in Grimsby on Friday. 

He said: "It has been a privilege to serve the Council and the communities of the South Ward and I hope that, in my small way, I have given benefit and service to this area.

“I have always acted with the interests of the people of this area at heart."

An hour before announcing his resignation at 3pm yesterday, Monday, North East Lincolnshire Council’s cabinet met without him. His apologies were noted at the meeting, which was chaired in his absence by Cllr Dave Watson who now takes over as leader.

Momentous day: Ray Oxby with Lord Henley, left, and Jake Berry, signing the first Town Deal for Grimsby in July last year. 

In a statement, released to the media, Mr Oxby said: "More recently the pressures have been significantly exacerbated by the verbal abuse I have received personally and via social media. This abuse has gone beyond fair political comment.

“My vehicle has been vandalised, and unpleasant - an understatement - contents have been pushed through my letterbox.

“Much of this has been linked to the decision on Toll Bar roundabout and has gone beyond what any reasonable person should endure.”

He said health challenges are a huge factor too, citing pressures from "difficult decisions the Council has been forced to take due to cuts by Central Government on Local Government funding".

National and local Labour leaders, Jeremy Corbyn and Ray Oxby in Grimsby in January 2018.

Mr Oxby was born in North Thoresby and attended Clee Grammar School.

He went on to study Environmental Health at Aston University in Birmingham, and after a number of years working in Essex and Bedford, he returned to Grimsby to work as the chief environmental health officer at Grimsby Borough Council.

In 2009, he retired from what had become North East Lincolnshire Council, having gained the title of strategic director of environmental services, and became active in the local Labour Party.

He decided in 2012 to stand for election as a councillor for the first time, contesting the Liberal Democrat-held South ward seat, which includes the Nunsthorpe estate and Bradley area.

Top team: Mr Oxby, with Rob Walsh, chief executive left, and now leader Dave Watson, in a meeting in November.

Mr Oxby won the seat in a Labour wave, with more than half of the total vote and a convincing majority, helping the party overall control on the council for the first time in years. He then succeeded Chris Shaw as leader in 2015.

Cllr Watson, who serves Immingham, said: "I’ve worked closely with Ray since we were both elected at the same time and he’s done a huge amount to bring about a transformation in the area through initiatives such as the pioneering Grimsby Town Deal, the regeneration success we’ve attracted to Cleethorpes and a host of other schemes which will benefit generations to come.

“However, being in public life is a high-pressure role and my colleagues and I fully respect his decision and wish him and his family well for the future - our sincere thanks go to him for serving the area so well for so long.’’

Despite now having less seats than the Conservatives in Grimsby Town Hall, the Labour administration enjoys a confidence and supply agreement with the Liberal Democrats. 

Leader of North East Lincolnshire's Liberal Democrat Party, Ian Barfield, pictured with Mr Oxby above, said that the resignation marks a “sad day”.

He said: “It is a very sad day when personal abuse can push somebody over the edge, especially someone who has served the council as long as Ray has. I think that the abuse that all councillors face has gone too far. Nearly every day I see comments insinuating that we are making a fortune by being on the take or fiddling. My wife no longer looks at social media because the volume of abuse upsets her.

“Personally I feel very sad for Ray, who has done so much in the area. Everything he has done, he believed was in the best interest for the area, even if others don’t agree.

“I have worked closely with Ray over the past year, due to our arrangement with the Labour Party. Nothing has changed, and we will continue to support the party until the next elections.

“It is a very sad day indeed and I would like to wish Ray all the best in his post-political life.”

A by-election will now be triggered in his ward, most likely to take place in tandem with the scheduled elections in May.

Paying tribute to the late Muriel Barker at Grimsby Minster in January. 

Cllr Philip Jackson, leader of North East Lincolnshire's Conservative Group, said: “Having been a member of North East Lincolnshire Council since 2003, I have known Ray very well as both a council officer and an elected member.

“I have always got on well with him as a friend and colleague. I do not wish to comment on his reasons for resignation.”

Grimsby’s Labour MP Melanie Onn said: “I’d like to thank Ray for four years of tireless service as Council leader and for seven years of working hard for South ward.

“Ray has guided the council through tremendously difficult budget cuts while supporting critical services like Family First that help families across our area give their children the best start in life.

“He will leave the legacy of a truly groundbreaking Town Deal that has the potential to set Grimsby on a path to prosperity for years to come.”

South Bank business editor David Laister gives his take on the resigning leader:

Ray Oxby and Rob Walsh, together - as leader and chief executive - have struck me as a quality double-act at the helm of NELC.

Political and administrative leaders, career-versed in local authority work, and highly capable when it came to the business-fronting element of council business.

The Grimsby Town Deal, South Humberside Industrial Investment Partnership, support for the burgeoning offshore wind sector, and a period of relative calm on the crisis-management front, must be put in his beloved black and white.

For when roundabouts and missed bin collections are the big talking points, I’d suggest a local authority is working quite well.

Civic role: Mr Oxby welcomes Velocys, the company looking to build a new aviation fuel refinery in Stallingborough, to North East Lincolnshire just before Christmas 2018. 

More harmony across the Humber, a valiant attempt at crossing borders for the greater good, north, south and west - despite not getting wider devolution over the line - brought public and private praise.

One of his final public appearances was at Grimsby Renewables Partnership’s 2019 conference early last month.

“Confidence is growing in our patch. In the last few years we’ve done some remarkable work, and while there has been a lot of news about securing money and plans, we’re starting to see spades in the ground on a number of projects,” he proudly told.

Never me, me, me, always we, we, we – quite rightly so. Cleethorpes Regeneration on his watch too.

“To invest and grow the whole of the Humber, we need to work together,” he added. “Administrative boundaries shouldn’t be the dividing line between us when investment, jobs and opportunities present themselves. True partnership is indeed my mantra and hallmark.”

Mr Oxby with speakers, sponsors and directors at GRP19 last month. 

Leadership was very much presented as a partnership with Mr Walsh, and - while taking a moment to reflect on a career’s contribution to civic life - we automatically look to what next.

Could this be the time to seize the opportunity and link together with North Lincolnshire in these austere times for local authority purses?

It is such a shame recent personal issues faced by Mr Oxby have seen him miss the praise of the Prime Minister and Lord Lamont.

Pragmatic and professional in dealings, the colour of the rosette didn’t cloud his judgement when it came to a challenge, or an opportunity.

I wish him well.

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