Cherwell District Council: Tories hit back after criticism as budget gains no support from rivals
Cherwell District Council’s budget for 2022-23 has been passed despite no support and scathing criticism from opposition councillors.
The Conservative-led authority is set to generate £2.4 million – £200,000 less than originally planned – through cutting costs or raising charges in a bid to balance the books.
That will be achieved by council tax increase of £5 per year for an average – band D – property, a measure supported by more than half of those who responded to a public consultation, as well as not filling vacant staff roles and cutting leisure services.
Proposed cuts to council-funded monitoring of CCTV were scrapped and increases to car parking charges limited after £2.8 million more than anticipated funding from central government came forward. Most of that – £2.5 million – “will be allocated to contingencies”.
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Lead member for finance and governance Councillor Tony Ilott (Con, Banbury Hardwick) set the backdrop of “another difficult financial year with the shadow of Covid lurking around us” and said that the cuts had been designed so “that the public would not notice any downgrading of services”.
“We are very much aware that it is your money we are handling and because of that we paid particular attention to the results of a public budget survey,” he said.
“This survey caused us to change some financial proposals. Never let it be said that we do not listen.”
Leader of the opposition Councillor Sean Woodcock (Lab, Banbury Ruscote) decried the “same old Conservative policy with council tax once again going up”.
He said: “The party of high taxation and low growth strikes again with life in Cherwell made a little bit harder at a time when people are already facing a cost of living crisis, and for what?
“They are not providing more things for our residents to do, they are closing the bowling alley in Bicester. Let’s not forget what they wanted to put in this budget as well, cuts to town centre CCTV and parking charges that go up year after year for the next five years.
“These things were scrapped because opposition councillors rightly called them out.”
Councillor Ian Middleton (Green, Kidlington East) spoke on behalf of Progressive Oxfordshire to say they were “very concerned” by the lack of detail behind climate change elements
“Two years on from what the council called its greenest budget ever, we are still seeing the same shortsighted focus on growth for the sake of growth with no proposals to address the impacts of those policies,” he said.
“We continue to increase charges for solar panels and thermal upgrades through building regulation costs that were introduced in 2020 when other councils were abolishing them.
“These charges are counterintuitive to our climate emergency declarations.”
Cllr Middleton also said there had been a “lack of proper information” available to scrutinise the budget, adding: “We were promised greater engagement yet members outside the executive and certainly those outside the controlling group have had very little opportunity to engage with and contribute to the budget setting process.
“In some cases, there has even been a concerted effort to deny members the information required to make a reasoned assessment.
“For those reasons we have not introduced any amendments and we would urge council to take a more open approach in subsequent years.”
Councillor Mike Kerford-Byrnes (Con, Deddington) hit back.
“I really believe the opposition groups could do better in council,” he said.
“They excel themselves in committees and debates, particularly in matters constitutional and they make a lot of sensible suggestions on the planning committee, but they come along here and just say no.
“Bring something to full council, come along with something constructive. Challenge the budget with something tangible, see if you can come along with something that is better than what is put forward.”
Leader Councillor Barry Wood (Con, Fringford & Heyfords) said: “We are not afraid to make efficiencies and savings in order to protect the financial stability and wellbeing of the council, that is and will be our policy going forward.
“We seek to check our priorities are the right ones and that we are doing what the people ask us to. That is why there is a strong link between our business plan, consultation and the budget itself.
"Members of political parties must put in their political leaflets messaging that they feel is going to advantage them the most, our messaging will be clear about our commitments to the policies we have outlined and above all financial stability for this authority.
“We will not walk the road of councils – largely Labour controlled – that have gone down.”
Labour, Green and Liberal Democrat councillors voted against the budget and one independent abstained but the Conservatives still comfortably had enough clout with 28 votes for and 11 against.