Opposition will scrutinise big council spending cuts

Oxford Mail: Parents and children in support of children's centres at Donnington Doorstep. Parents and children in support of children's centres at Donnington Doorstep.

WITH Oxfordshire County Council being faced with finding a further reduction in its spending of more than £60m over the next four years, effective scrutiny of this year’s budget process will be more important than ever.

The scrutiny process is about challenging the county’s cabinet and senior officers about their budget proposals with the aim of ensuring that they are robust, properly thought through and realistic.

It is therefore to be welcomed that, for the first time in a number of years, the council’s main scrutiny committee is chaired by the leader of the opposition, Councillor Liz Brighouse, and I, a Liberal Democrat, am now deputy chairman.

There can now be no accusation that the Conservatives are giving themselves an easy ride.

The role of the scrutiny committee is not to act as an opposition, that is for the council chamber, but it is to make sure that the work behind the proposals has been done diligently.

At our meeting on Monday we will be going through the budget proposals area by area.

We will ask searching questions about what the proposed cuts will mean to service users and checking that the proposals are feasible.

For example, we will look at the budget for children’s centres, a highly valued service that has benefited each of my children in turn along with many thousands of other families across the county.

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I welcome the announcement that no centres will now close, and I am glad the Conservatives have bowed to public pressure.

But we now need to know how the £7m savings in the children’s budget will be made without closures.

We will want to ask about what the impact is likely to be on children’s centres and other services, how the cabinet thinks the savings can be delivered, and look at how the impact on children and families is going to be assessed.

Other services are also under pressure and we will be looking at them too.

The largest number of complaints I get as a councillor are about the state of the roads and pavements. Pedestrians, cyclists and car users alike are all suffering because of poor maintenance and years of under-investment.

So we will be looking closely at the likely impact of a further £15m cut from the environment budget that covers highways maintenance. In the new year we’ll also be taking a look at whether the current approach to repairing the roads is effective. I’m certainly not convinced it is.

Adult social care is also under pressure. The proposal is to cut £22m from that budget too and we will be seeking assurances that the county will be in a position to continue to support the growing number of very vulnerable people reliant on our care services.

Overall the county council is facing an extremely difficult budget round, and those of us on the scrutiny committee, of all parties, will be doing our best to ensure that the proposals stack up, that the implications of them are understood, and that they will be delivered in a way that provides the best possible deal for local residents.


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