‘Compassionate’ Oxfordshire County Council budget passed

Oxfordshire County Council's base at County Hall in Oxford NNL-180920-115839001
Oxfordshire County Council's base at County Hall in Oxford NNL-180920-115839001

Oxfordshire County Council’s leader said it had passed a ‘compassionate’ budget which will see a tax increase – but the leader of the opposition hit out in defence of already struggling families.

Ian Hudspeth, the council’s leader, said spending on adult social care, children’s social care and education will all go up while council tax will increase by the maximum without holding a referendum – 2.99 per cent.

But Labour and Liberal Democrats said support needed to be given to troubled children and both supported employing new youth workers.

The council said it had added £1m for youth provision over the next two years, which Cllr Hudspeth said had been welcomed by groups around the county.

Liz Brighouse, the leader of the opposition Labour group, said: “I just feel I’m from a different planet (to Conservatives). There are families who actually feel completely on the brink of what they need to survive.”

Cllr Hudspeth said the council said the budget was ‘not only compassionate… but also about localism’.

He said: “With budget pressures, we must target our resources to provide vital services to those vulnerable adults and children who require them most.”

Labour said the Councillor Priority Fund should have been axed to save £700,000.

As part of that, councillors were given £15,000 in 2018/19 and will be given the same amount to spend in their own divisions in 2019/20.

Laura Price, who represents Witney South and Central, said it indulged councillors’ ‘whims without vigorous analysis’.

A row broke out over the use of the fund. Deputy leader Judith Heathcoat, who represents Faringdon, said she had spent money on a bus service to prevent children in her division walking through fields and arriving to school with wet shoes.

But Labour’s Deborah McIlveen said of some children in her Leys ward: “Let alone people getting their shoes wet…they haven’t got food in their mouths. (There are) hungry children in this wealthy city of dreaming spires.”

Generally, the council’s budget was less contentious than previous years’.

Lib Dem leader Richard Webber said councillors had ‘little room for manoeuvre’ because of the constraints on key services.

All Labour and the Lib Dems amendments were defeated.

Council tax on a Band D property for 2019/20 will be £1,468.83, an increase of £42.64 from last year.