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Leader delivers a warning over timing of budget cuts
TAXPAYERS could be left waiting until Christmas to hear how the axe will fall on £61m of council services.
Last year, the local government grant settlement was unveiled on December 19, leaving council staff three working days before the holidays to start number-crunching.
The council recently announced it would have to save an extra £61m in response to the Chancellor’s spending review, which slashed council budgets by 10 per cent.
Finance bosses have already made or committed to savings of £201m.
Funding for councils is set out every year in the Chancellor’s autumn statement, but Mr Hudspeth said he had concerns about the timing of the announcement.
The Conservative said: “The rumours that are flying around from various different sources are saying the autumn statement may well be a winter statement.
“Last year Eric [Pickles, Local Government Secretary] was saying we may have to wait until Father Christmas’s sleighbells were ringing, and it may be the same again this year.
“We were really up against it last year and many staff were working throughout the Christmas period.”
Last year’s budget-setting process had to identify £43m of savings over the next four years.
Mr Hudspeth said: “Our assumptions are normally reasonably accurate.
“We have been very good at being there or thereabouts in the past, but if there are particular ring-fenced grants which are going to be affected, that makes it more difficult.
“The bottom line is we know roughly that it will be £61m. The difficulty is with some of the grants coming out in January.”
He said he had spoken to the Mr Pickles.
“I have made my feelings known. What they are saying is that sometimes they are under tremendous pressure to get as much money for different departments as possible.”
Mr Hudspeth added: “We have seen that it’s possible for the council to underestimate the impact of changes.
“It’s so important for the council to be able to carry out detailed impact assessments, and it would be worrying if they didn’t have time to do that.”
Oxfordshire Pensioners’ Action Group chairman John Mackie, 74, said: “It does give them a very tight timespan.”
The Department for Communities and Local Government did not respond to a request for a comment.