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Wielding £60m budget axe as fairly as the county can
5:00pm Thursday 19th December 2013 in News
MAKING savings of more than £60m was always going to be a huge challenge, especially when you consider that the council had already made or planned to make around £200m of savings up to 2018.
We knew from the outset that we would have to do things that would be unpopular and felt that we had to give prior warning to the public of the level of cuts we would have to make — hence our tour of the county with our Talking Oxfordshire meetings back in October.
We said at those meetings that as far as possible, fairness, providing a safety net for the most vulnerable and looking at what we are legally obliged to provide would offer the backbone of the rationale behind our decision-making processes.
I believe that those principles have been a constant through the casting of our budget proposals and I know that all of our councillors, regardless of the political party they represent, are keen to see those principles upheld looking forward to February when we finally set our budget and all of the years up to 2018.
We have sought to avoid arbitrary outcomes in our proposals and protect services for those most in need.
There are only very small changes to budgets in children’s social care and we are seeking to make sure that in adult social care we continue to provide services to those who are entitled to them.
Making efficiencies to help with the savings and raising income has proved more difficult than in 2010 and 2011 when local government and the public sector in general first embarked on the era of austerity.
However, there are still many examples in our budgets of teams and departments working hard to find savings that protect the frontline.
We want to raise income by increasing sponsorship on our highway assets (roundabouts and lamp posts etc), while our new energy from waste plant in Ardley will contribute more than £2m to our budgets as a result of extra business rates and finance from the electricity generated from the facility.
Without this, more than £2m would have needed to be found in savings.
We are looking at major changes to the way services are delivered including outsourcing a number of ‘back office’ functions of the council such as ICT and HR, and helping older people live independently for longer to reduce reliance on adult care services.
At the same time we are looking at a whole range of income generation options, including sponsored roundabouts and lamp posts, which taken together add up to significant income that will reduce the need for future savings There are many groups representing worthy causes who have regrettably had to have their budgets reduced in some way.
We saw many passionate speeches at our scrutiny meetings and will no doubt see a few more.
The sums we are talking about may only be £50,000 or £100,000 but finding those savings would mean finding the additional amount from adult or children’s services.
Overall, I believe we are proposing a fair and equitable way forward.
Yes, there are tough decisions, but given the level of savings we are being required to make, that was always going to be the case.
I hope the people of Oxfordshire will be able to see the hard work that has gone in to constructing these difficult budget proposals during a very challenging time for local government.
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