Controversial cuts to public services in Oxford abandoned after last-minute deal

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Controversial cuts to elderly and children’s services in Oxford abandoned after last-minute deal – Megan Izzo

On Tuesday, 16th February, more than 200 people who had gathered outside County Hall to protest proposed budget cuts to Oxford’s elderly and children’s centres were briefly gratified to hear that county council members had voted in favour of an amended budget.

The group of citizens—including David Cameron’s aunt—had planned to protest budget cuts of a combined £29m to elderly day centres and children’s centres in Oxfordshire, proposed for the 2016-17 fiscal year. According to the BBC, members of the Unite union employed in early children’s intervention had planned to strike for 24 hours on the 16th.

After a private meeting between the Conservative, Labour, and Liberal Democrat groups on Tuesday, county councillors voted for a revised budget in a 60-to-two decision. The council’s newly proposed budget subtracted £2m worth of early intervention funding from the £8m savings originally designated to be taken from the children’s centres. It also pulled back £3m in proposed cuts to adult social programs, including reductions to elderly day centres, transportation, dementia support, and financial support for carers.

The decision does not constitute the victory protestors had hoped it would, however. Cuts of £18m to adult social programs, and £6m to children’s centres, will go ahead as previously planned. Additionally, according to political reporter Bethan Philips, the council’s new budget proposal states that they still have £15m to find in savings for next year.

“They may have just kicked the decision down the road,” Philips said.

In the months leading up to Tuesday’s council meeting, thousands of Oxfordshire residents had signed a petition calling for the council to reconsider its proposed £8m cuts to children’s centres. Clare Currie, David Cameron’s aunt, and Mary Cameron, his mother, were among the petitioners.

Clare Currie told the BBC that she had previously written to her nephew, the prime minister, about her opposition to the cuts, and believes that the services in question, particularly children’s centres, are “really vital for people’s wellbeing.”

The Oxfordshire County Council reports that between 2010 and 2020, it has been forced to find an additional £69m in savings on top of £292m of budget cuts already agreed upon. The £69m constitutes 11.4% of the council’s total gross budget. Social services will suffer heavily from the cuts, including the elderly day centres, children’s centres, and homelessness support centres. According to council leader Ian Hudspeth, the cuts were the result of reductions in funding from central government.

“[David Cameron] is against the children’s centres cutting… it’s central government who are cutting the money and I think they’re making a great error,” Currie noted. “I think if [the programs are] cut, an awful lot of families and old people and homeless… their lives will be diminished.”

The prime minister has himself previously written to the local authority to express “disappointment” at planned cuts to the elderly day centres, as well as to museums and libraries.

Despite the cuts it removed from the elderly and children’s centres funding on Tuesday,  the Oxfordshire County Council’s amended budget also established that the council is planning to cut all funding for bus subsidies, and take an additional £1.5m from homelessness services. However, the council revealed, it has also created a £9m ‘transition fund’ that has the potential to help “ease the pain.”

While the fund is not guaranteed to be placed towards bus routes or homelessness services, Oxfordshire residents should learn soon whether the money will help ease cuts on those areas.

Image: David Dixon (CC BY SA 2.0)

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