Oxfordshire County Council have announced a further £23 million of short term budget cuts, despite protestations from charities in the region who rely on their support.
The specificities of the savings are being decided in a consultation project called ‘Talking Oxford’, with the Council explaining: ‘As government reduces funding to local government, the County Council has to continue to make budget savings. At the same time demand for our services is increasing, partly due to our ageing and growing population, and increasing demand for children’s social care services is going up.’
The Conservative leader of the County Council, Ian Hudspeth, offered his apologies for the move, saying ‘We are desperately sorry that we now have to consider these extensive savings.’ Mr Hudspeth previously made headlines last November in a row with the Prime Minister, after Mr Cameron wrote to say he was ‘disappointed’ at the proposed cuts ‘frontline services, from elderly day centres, to libraries, to museums’ in his Oxfordshire constituency. Mr Hudspeth replied, defending the specific choices made by the Council as to where the axe should fall, and expressed incredulity at the Prime Minister’s view on the scale of the cutbacks, writing: ‘I cannot accept your description of a drop in funding of £72m […] as a ‘slight fall’’.
Mr Hudspeth has said that he now intends to raise these additional cuts with the Prime Minister, telling the BBC that he’ll try ‘to make [David Cameron] understand exactly the situation for Oxfordshire and the impact it will have on the residents.’ In October, coinciding with the launch of the consultation period, he reassured residents that half of their budget ‘already goes on helping the most vulnerable two per cent of the population’, and that this would rise to three quarters by 2020.
Oxford Homeless Pathways, a charity established to help homeless and vulnerable people aged 22 and over, took a pessimistic view of the cuts, saying they were ‘gravely disappointed’, and commented in a blog post entitled ‘Enough is Enough!’ that ‘if cuts like this go ahead, organisations like our will be forced to close and vital services for homeless people in Oxford will cease to exist.’
The charity has started a Facebook event page for a peaceful rally to be held outside the County Hall next Tuesday, coinciding with a full cabinet meeting of the Council at which the consultation on budget cuts will be discussed. This effort comes alongside a petition, calling for Oxfordshire County Council to ‘Save vital services for homeless people’, and a recent Christmas fundraising campaign to attempt to plug the gap left by the progressively shrinking budget for ‘Housing Related Support’, out of which funding for homelessness charities is found. At the time of writing, the petition has attracted over 5,000 signatures, while the Christmas ‘Gift of Hope’ appeal continues to surpass the £15,000 target.
An alliance of sixteen charities, also going under the slogan ‘Enough is Enough’, including Oxford Homeless Pathways and Age UK Oxfordshire, warned that vulnerable people would be worst-hit in a ‘cumulative and wide-ranging way’ by the move.
The City Council explain on the consultation page on their website: ‘Local authorities across the country, as well as the wider public sector have, in recent years, been subject to a steady reduction in grant funding from central government, as well as facing the impact of the recession. Between 2013 and March 2016, Oxford City Council will have had its government grant reduced by around 60%. Further cuts have been signalled for future years, with grant expected to fall out by 2019-20. As a consequence, the Council has faced challenges in identifying efficiency savings and new income streams in order to protect and improve services.’
The Department for Communities and Local Government said it was providing a ‘long-term funding settlement for the first time allowing local authorities to plan with certainty’.
The burden of the savings has also been spread onto the taxpayer, with council tax set to rise by 3.99% come April. The County Council has already saved or plans to save a total of £292 million between 2010 and 2018. The final budget will be voted on in February.
Image: David Dixon (CC BY SA 2.0)