The debate over the best solution for the devolution of local government in Oxfordshire has reached a new battle ground – grass cutting.
Cherwell District Council (CDC) has taken over some grass cutting responsibilities from Oxfordshire County Council (OCC) following recent budget cuts.
CDC leader, Barry Wood, said this was necessary to preserve the appearance and safety of the area.
During 2016/2017, CDC says it will invest £42,839 and work in partnership with town and parish councils to cut 691,188 sqm of grass across Banbury, Bicester, Kidlington, Gosford and Water Eaton.
OCC which is responsible for maintaining all of Oxfordshire’s grass verges decided to reduce the service due to budget restrictions.
Mr Wood said: “OCC receives 75 per cent of residents’ council tax bills to help fund services such as grass cutting. However because it has run out of money, the funding for grass cutting was cut by half, which led to the county only cutting the grass twice a year. Not only does this impact on the appearance of our area here in Cherwell, but it also raises safety concerns regarding visibility so we could not stand by and let this happen.”
He added the situation demonstrated why CDC was better placed to deliver all services across the district as part of devolution proposals to replace district and county councils with a single unitary authority for the area.
CDC will provide up to 16 cuts during the year. The decision was made by CDC’s executive committee.
Mr Wood said CDC had taken steps to reduce spending without cutting services, but did not have an ‘endless pot of money’ to spend on services others were responsible for.
Nick Carter, OCC councillor for local government, business, ICT and customer services, said: “Safety is our top priority and we continue to cut grass to maintain clear sightlines at junctions.
“We would like to do more, but the county council has had to make savings on a huge scale because unlike districts, government is reducing funding significantly and we have to manage huge increases in demand for services such as social care for adults and children.
“If the districts are ever put in charge of social services they will understand what it means to balance the costs of grass cutting with protecting children from abuse and caring for vulnerable adults who cannot look after themselves.
“We are pleased the county council has been able to work with colleagues at district, town and parish councils to ensure that wherever possible local communities continue to get these services that are important to them.”
CDC is working with the county’s other city and district councils to promote proposals for devolution which could include creating single unitary authorities for each district to provide all services.