OXFORDSHIRE BUDGET SPECIAL: Council’s desperate attempt to claw back vital funding (From Herald Series)
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OXFORDSHIRE BUDGET SPECIAL: Council’s desperate attempt to claw back vital funding
SENIOR councillors said they had to make “difficult choices” as they yesterday signed off £64m of savings over four years.
Oxfordshire County Council is bidding to cut cash for services like transport and adult social care and pull all funding for homeless shelters.
Despite protests and petitions handed in ahead of their meeting, cabinet members backed the savings at County Hall.
Conservative cabinet member for finance Arash Fatemian said: “I think I speak for all councillors when I say nobody was elected to make these difficult choices.
“If we had the choice we wouldn’t be making the decisions before cabinet today.
“But it is a consequence of the financial climate we find ourselves in and for every pound that we don’t save somewhere, we have to raise that pound or save it somewhere else.
“There are no longer any easy savings.
“Every single saving is particularly hard and every single saving is challenging.”
David Williams, leader of the Green Group, said there were alternatives
From 2010/11 to 2017/18 Government funding for the council’s revenue budget –which pays for the running of services – will fall by 39 per cent, £96m.
Savings will need to be approved by the Conservative-led council when it meets on February 18.
Council leader Ian Hudspeth said he would continue to review the budget until a final decision was made at that meeting.
He said: “We do take on board everything which has been said today. We are having to make some very difficult decisions.”
Green councillors proposed keeping the £1.5m homelessness funding by increasing charges like parking and selling assets.
County councillor and leader of the Green group David Williams said: “Don’t accept that there is no alternative, because there is.
“The Tories will tell you we have to make these cuts because there has been a 40 per cent drop in the amount of government money but they don’t have to do what they are doing.”
Labour group finance spokesman Nick Hards told the cabinet: “We need to try to protect those who we can, particularly the most vulnerable.”
Labour's Nick Hards made an impassioned plea
The council said the homelessness cash replaced Government funding that had now stopped and Oxford City Council and district councils are still legally obliged to tackle the issue.
The county council’s revenue budget for 2014-15 is £442.3m.
• Departments and the cuts they face:
ENVIRONMENT AND ECONOMY
Current budget – £90.8m
Cabinet member – David Nimmo Smith
Cuts proposed – £11.2m
Including a review of subsidised and free transport services which will lead to a cut of £3.2m and cuts of £1.3m to general highways maintenance.
A total of £350,000 is to be cut from recycling centres which may mean one or more of the seven of those in the county will have to close.
ADULT SOCIAL CARE
Current budget – £292.3m
Cabinet member – Judith Heathcoat
Cuts proposed – £7.1m
Including a £200,000 cut to subsidies for meals, shopping and laundry, and a £300,000 cut in support for organisations like Citizens Advice Bureau.
Savings of almost £12m in adult social care will be mitigated by a £10m grant from the Government but savings on top of that will still total £7.1m.
The report said: “Adult social care accounts for 40 per cent of our spend. We recognise that there is an ageing population which will continue to grow and pressures on this budget will continue to grow too.
“We are continuing to invest in this area and everyone with an assessed need will received support.”
CHILDREN, EDUCATION AND FAMILIES
Current budget – £98m
Cabinet member – Melinda Tilley
Cuts proposed – £6.4m
£3m must be saved across the county’s children’s centres and a further £3.1m will be saved by the children’s services department.
There will be a £1.3m cut in support for people with special educational needs and the formation of a trust for the county music service saving £362,000.
CHIEF EXECUTIVE’S OFFICE/CULTURAL SERVICES
Current budget – £9.8m
Cabient members –
Cuts proposed – £1.5m
The libraries budget will be cut by £250,000 while there will also be cuts to organisations such as Pegasus Theatre and Oxfordshire Youth Arts Partnership.
The report said: “We remain committed to our existing plan to introduce volunteers and 2014/15 will be the second of the three year library service strategy.”
FIRE AND COMMUNITY SAFETY
Current budget – £31.1m
Cabinet member – Louise Chapman
Cuts proposed – £614,000
Crewing in Banbury could change from a 24-hour shift model to a day-crewed model by 2016/17.
Full-time firefighter support to be introduced in Bicester, costing £1.2m
The report said: “Oxfordshire has not had any change in fire cover arrangements nor had any additional fire stations built in the county since 1987. Since then, there has been considerable housing growth. We will invest £1.5m over the medium term to ensure we protect our emergency response function and ensure we remain fit for purpose.”
Current budget – £26.7m
Cabinet member – Hilary Hibbert-Biles
Cuts proposed – £2.5m
Savings will be made by working more efficiently
The report said: “We intend to make savings in this service through commissioning more efficient services as contracts used to commission services are renewed.”
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