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COUNCIL CUTS: Public meeting votes for higher taxes over more austerity
OXFORDSHIRE residents furious at local government cuts last night called for council tax to be put up to save services.
Around 200 people attended a public meeting on cuts at Oxford’s County Hall, while protesters outside urged Oxfordshire County Council to appeal to the Government for more cash to stop children’s centres and other services being stopped.
The county council has to make £61m of cuts on top of savings of £201m already made or committed to – and is holding a series of meetings to explain the challenges ahead.
But at a heated meeting, about 90 per cent of those in attendance called for a referendum to be held to raise council tax by more than two per cent in an effort to stop the cuts.
The meeting comes after the Oxford Mail revealed that the county council may close 37 of the 44 children’s centres it funds.
And today we can reveal that the council may also close four of its seven early intervention hubs, set up just two years ago to support vulnerable young people.
Council leader Ian Hudspeth was flanked by chief executive Joanna Simons as people unhappy about the cuts made their feelings clear.
Amid heckling and some shouting, the council’s top leaders aimed to defend the measures they were taking.
Mr Hudspeth said: “We have to find an extra £61m.
“It is going to be a challenge but I am sure it is one that we can rise to.”
The leaders would not reveal where cuts would be made, or guarantee what services could be spared the axe.
A vote was held at the meeting to see how many people would be happy to vote for a referendum to raise council tax above two per cent to try to save public services.
Currently the Government prevents the council doing this without a referendum.
About 90 per cent of those present voted in favour.
However, Mr Hudspeth warned that the referendum could cost £500,000 of taxpayers’ money.
Most of the meeting centred on the children’s centre proposals, which generated a storm of protest – despite Mr Hudspeth’s attempts to explain that no decisions had been made on which services would be cut.
He said: “What we are doing is the start of the process and we will be looking at each children’s centre individually.”
But people who use the centres said the plans were flawed.
Marie Vickers is on the management committee of Oxford’s Slade Children’s Centre, which opened two years ago.
She asked the council bosses to explain how they would decide which children’s centres would close and which would stay open.
She said: “I want to be reassured that in each area, there will be criteria taking account of the deprivation there, not disregarding the work that is being done.”
Mum-of-one Dr Jessica Scaife, 34, uses several children’s centres near her home in Cricket Road, East Oxford, with her 18-month-old daughter May.
She said that children’s centres could start charging for certain services to certain people if they were under threat of closure and rent out their space for other groups to make money.
She added: “We would all be happy to pay for sessions to allow those who can’t afford to stay and play.”
Mr Hudspeth and Ms Simons both said that they would look into the idea.
Protestors gathered outside from the campaign group the Oxford People’s Assembly.
Member Dan Fearnley said: “It is despicable that we are pitting users of services against each other, to battle for who will get cut.
“They are all essential services. Unfortunately it seems that when Government saw councils accepting the last round of cuts, they decided to issue some more.”
- More than 4,000 people have already signed a petition to save the county’s children’s centres. Visit petitionbuzz.com/petitions/saveourchildrenscntr
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