FACING THE CUTS: Reaction to county council budget decisions

Oxford Mail: FACING THE CUTS: Reaction to county council budget decisions FACING THE CUTS: Reaction to county council budget decisions

OXFORDSHIRE County Council, which this year had a total budget of £586m, has revealed it will be axing more than £64m over the next four years.

Here we outline the main areas under discussion:

CHILDREN, EDUCATION AND FAMILIES

DESPITE the fact it is not the largest cut in the department, the proposed withdrawal of £362,000 in funding for the county music service has caused concerns.

The county council has outlined plans to have the service run by a trust, but has not explained how it will work and what elements of the service will be retained.

For music teacher Penny Dwyer, who commissions teaching at Windmill Primary School in Headington, Oxford, the future is uncertain.

She said: “What I would worry about is that we might lose any of the support we currently get from the county music service.

“They organise such brilliant events. The other day we took part in a concert at the Sheldonian Theatre celebrating the centenary of Benjamin Britten, and we also took part in an event called the Big Christmas Sing.

“Both of them were organised by the county music service, and I would be very very concerned if these sorts of events did not go ahead in the future.”

Other savings in this area include £200,000 from the attendance service, which will be reorganised, and £75,000 from the school improvement service, which currently funds one-off school projects.

CHIEF EXECUTIVE’S OFFICE AND CULTURAL SERVICES

WHILE most of the savings in the department will be made through staff changes and more efficient working, some organisations will also see their funding slashed.

Oxford Inspires, which promotes the city and county as a tourist destination, received £130,000 from the council in 2012/13. This year that funding was cut to £80,000, and the organisation was expecting to receive £55,000 next year. But director Giles Ingram said he had heard this would be cut further – and a saving of £25,000 is outlined in the budget.

Mr Ingram said: “It will obviously have an impact on the work we do. I am keen that our work is recognised for its contribution to economic growth and job creation and is not just seen as cultural services.”

The chief executive’s office will save £237,000 by “deleting” vacant posts and another £158,000 will be saved from similar work in the corporate support teams. Savings of £2.2m will be made through outsourcing of some services, and £100,000 from closer working with Hampshire on human resources and financial management. Another £400,000 will be saved through the use of smartphones and other changes with the council’s telephone system.

ADULT SOCIAL CARE

A WINDFALL of £10m from central Government will go some way towards mitigating cuts in adult social care.

But concerns have been raised about cuts of £7.1m which will be made.

Pensioner Dot Holloway, 65, from Minster Lovell, said: “They seem intent on making cuts but they seem to cut the wrong things. They should cut money spent on managers rather than care. They seem to cut all the care.

“There are an awful lot of elderly people who can’t manage themselves. I remember my mother (Eleanor Anns, who died in 1989) used the Stirlings care home in Wantage and that was virtually her only link to the social world. She got her hair done and a meal made and she really enjoyed herself. Social activities are vital for the elderly, especially those who live on their own.

“You can’t just sit them in a chair, they need stimulation and something to do.”

ENVIRONMENT AND ECONOMY

EXTRA funding of £2.5m for pothole repairs will be a small mercy for the county’s motorists.

Private hire driver Richard Barlow, from Kidlington, said: “They should do the potholes. My car was damaged last year and I had to take three days off work because the wheel bearings went. That probably cost me about £300. But they should have sorted the potholes out in the summer, as the problem is only going to get worse during the winter.”

A review of subsidised and free transport services will lead to a £3.2m cut. There will be £1.3m of cuts to general maintenance including a decrease in verge and tree cutting, sign cleaning and line repainting.

FIRE AND COMMUNITY SAFETY

A SHAKE-UP of fire service cover in the north of the county will mean changes in Bicester and Banbury.

Under proposals unveiled in the budget, Bicester fire station will be crewed during the day instead of being covered only by on-call staff, costing £1.2m.

But in Banbury, the fire station will go from being staffed 24 hours a day to a day crewed model, saving £360,000.

Banbury MP Sir Tony Baldry said: “I have every confidence that any change made to the fire services is only going to be made if the chief fire officer deems them to be safe.”

PUBLIC HEALTH

A £2.5m saving from the £26.7m budget in public health will be achieved “by working more efficiently”.

Jacquie Pearce-Gervis, chairwoman of Oxfordshire-based watchdog Patient Voice, said: “All cuts are painful. We need more details about where the cuts will be made in public health. It’s not clear and they need to give more details about what they are going to do.”

When asked where money could be cut instead, she said: “No cuts are good news but I have spoken against the enormous bonuses given to NHS bosses.”

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