Cuts coincide with councillor cash rise

Last year's campaign:  Labour County Councillor Mark Cherry and Sean Woodcock with Jill Huish - Protest organiser and service user
Last year's campaign: Labour County Councillor Mark Cherry and Sean Woodcock with Jill Huish - Protest organiser and service user

Oxfordshire County Council members voted for a rise in allowances just after proposals for £20 million of new cuts in adults’ and children’s social care were revealed.

Earlier this week the county council said ‘huge and unprecedented pressures’ on budgets in adults’ and children’s social care – including children’s centres – over coming years have lead to its proposals for £20m of new savings.

But at Oxfordshire County Council’s budget meeting on Tuesday, the proposal for a 19 per cent increase in councillors’ allowances was voted through. Out of the 61 councillors who voted, 38 voted for, three abstained and 20 voted against.

Despite voting for the change, the five north Oxfordshire Conservative councillors Kieron Mallon, Lawrie Stratford, Arash Fatemian, Michael Waine and George Reynolds,have said they will not claim the increased expense.

The four Labour councillors for the Banbury town wards, Surinder Dhesi, John Christie, Mike Beal and Mark Cherry, voted against the proposals.

The meeting was held just after the council announced it needed to find £20m extra savings across the adults’ and children’s social care.

This is in addition to the figures released a year ago when the council outlined it needed to save £64 million in total over five years, due to Government cash cuts.

Out of these, savings of £3m were due to be made across all children’s services in the year 2017/2018. The new savings will take place in the financial years 2015/16, 2016/17 and 2017/18.

Cabinet will consider the proposals on Tuesday and a full council will make the finial decision in February.

This could once again mean the county’s children’s centres are at risk.

The Banbury Guardian reported in October 2013 how only one Banbury centre was earmarked to remain open.

Campaigners’ fears were however eased in December last year when the council stated it ‘did not envisage closures for any children’s centres or early intervention facilities’.

Speaking to the Banbury Guardian yesterday (Wednesday) councillor Mark Cherry said: “I had my worries last year and now it’s even worse than I thought because they have got to find even more money to save.

“I just can’t see how you can make these savings without affecting the children’s centres.

“All I can say is that I’ll be fighting the corner of the children centre in my division, which is Britannia Road.”

Paul Smith, spokesman for the county council, said: “Oxfordshire County Council’s review of services for children and families including children’s centres and the Early Intervention Service continues.

“No decisions have been taken on a way forward. Earlier in 2014 the council agreed to save £3m in these areas in the 2017/18 financial year with the aim being to find innovative ways to save money.

“It is now proposed to save an extra £1m in 2015/16 and £2m in 2016/17 – meaning £6m overall.

“The overall value of these services is £16m. There would be no immediate reductions in service for many months so that the council can carefully consider how these savings might be achieved, working with staff to do so.

“The council would continue to seek to protect valued frontline services as much as possible and will be focused on reducing management costs and reducing any duplication to save money.”