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‘Council cannot spend same money twice, says Hudspeth
THE Government has told cash-strapped council leaders to raid their reserves as they prepare to make £61m of cuts.
County Hall and the Government have come to blows after it was revealed councillors are asking local government secretary Eric Pickles to visit Oxfordshire to defend the cuts the council is being forced to make.
But the Government has hit back – saying the council is already spending more money per household than the national average.
The county council is facing cuts of £61m on top of £201m savings already made or committed-to after the Government cut local budgets by 10 per cent.
The Department for Communities and Local Government says Mr Pickles has no plans to come and defend the cuts – which could see 37 of the county’s 44 children’s centres close.
DCLG spokesman Heather Monro said: “Every bit of the public sector needs to keep doing its bit to pay off the inherited deficit, including local government, which accounts for a quarter of all public spending.
“Oxfordshire County Council has spending power of £1,678 per household, which is higher than the average of £1,583 for shire county councils.
“We have secured a good deal for all councils, rural and urban, north and south, metropolitan and shire, including freezing council tax for a further two years and providing almost £4bn more funding for adult social care.
“There is more councils can do to recover the £2bn a year of uncollected council tax, reduce the £2bn lost to fraud and error and use the £19bn of reserves they hold, such as the £131m held by Oxfordshire County Council, to reduce waste and protect frontline services.”
Councils have reserves as a safety blanket, although much of the money has to be put in the pot to pay for future developments such as schools.
County council leader Ian Hudspeth, who has publicly opposed the use of reserves to plug short-term funding gaps, said he would not change tack.
He said: “The vast majority of the council’s reserves are earmarked to be spent on particular things.
“A large amount of it is designated for capital projects.
Even if we decided to abandon all future capital projects involving work on schools, roads etc we would only have that money to spend once.
“Revenue budgets at councils run from financial year to financial year.
“The impression created by those who say to councils that they should ‘dip in to reserves’ is that you can spend the same money twice or three times. I know that if I went to a shop and spent £10 and then asked for the note back from the shopkeeper so that I could spend it again the following week, I wouldn’t get much joy.
“I am also confident that those who say ‘dip in to reserves’ would not be wanting us to stop earmarking money for future spend on items such as new protective clothing and breathing apparatus for firefighters and vehicles for the fire and rescue service when it is predicted they will be required, or training and development for staff in children, education and families services – including children’s social care.”
A motion calling on Mr Pickles to come to Oxfordshire and take part in a Q&A will be proposed at Tuesday’s full county council meeting by Lib Dem councillor Janet Godden.
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