On Tuesday Oxfordshire County Council agreed on a budget for the 2016/2017 year. In light of the threat of devastating cuts being imposed immediately to several significant areas, the council have agreed to give Oxfordshire’s local services more time to adjust to reduced finances.
This budget was a demonstration of effective opposition. Labour supported a compromise budget which included an extra £2 million for children’s centres and £1.95 million for day centres for the elderly. Labour added £1 million of transition funding for children’s centres and some transition money to tackle street homelessness. Rather than take the approach of just opposing the budget, Oxfordshire’s Labour county councillors took the decision to put party politics aside and make the best of the Tory government’s bad deal, the result being that the people of Didcot, Wantage, Wallingford, Faringdon and our villages will be better off than if the Council had gone ahead with their original plans.
We are disappointed to see that, having to failed to propose any budget amendments, one of the Lib Dem councillors did not even show up to the meeting. Labour’s efforts to do the best for the people of Oxford were opposed by the Greens, who offered nothing constructive apart from an unworkable proposal to ask people to pay more council tax – a 7% increase rather than 4%. That would have needed a costly and uncertain referendum in May followed by even bigger cuts needed if there was no agreement. This is not a victory, but it is better than the alternative, which would have devastated families in southern Oxfordshire. It is only with heavy hearts that our councillors have agreed to these measures.
Above all else, it must be remembered that this is not a Labour budget, but a Conservative budget drawn up by a Conservative County Council, which is adamant that it needed to balance its books at the earliest opportunity. Despite claims from council leaders that the cuts were “necessary” and “unavoidable”, David Cameron, his mother, aunt and tens of thousands of other Oxfordshire residents campaigned to stop the Government cuts to centres for children and the elderly, bus subsidies, road repairs and much more. Thanks to the Tories nationally and locally the County Council’s large share of the Council Tax will go up by 4% but County Council services will get much worse.
Wantage and Didcot Labour proudly stands by the actions of Labour’s county councillors, including Didcot West councillor Nick Hards, who were able to stand up for the people of Oxford in the face of an oppressive Tory budget. Our representatives will continue to fight for the best deal for everyone in South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse. We would like to encourage our members to attend future all member meetings to give their feedback on what has been a difficult process and to help plan to campaign to save local services.