CAMPAIGNERS warn that more cuts from Oxfordshire County Council will be a “false economy” that could hit the most vulnerable hardest.
Writing on the facing page, county council leader Ian Hudspeth says the local authority will have to make its “toughest decisions yet” as it decides how to save another £50m in the coming years.
Mr Hudspeth says the council will focus on ensuring cuts do not affect the most vulnerable, such as adults with disabilities and children at risk of abuse.
But Jill Huish, of the Save Oxfordshire Children’s Centres campaign, said plans to close all 44 centres in the county would hit poorest families the worst.
The 33-year-old mother-of-two said: “It is an enormous false economy. Children’s centres support families who have problems with housing or benefits.
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“They can help make sure they will not be a drain on other services in the future.
“They are a one-stop shop and very good value for money.”
Mr Hudspeth said he was confident communities may be able to step in to help provide services where public services are cut.
But Ms Huish, who uses the children’s centre in Britannia Road, Banbury, said this would not work in all cases.
She said: “Children’s centres have well-trained staff who can spot problems before families hit crisis point.
“The worry with volunteers is that they are not qualified in the way children’s centre staff are.”
In 2011, when Summertown library was faced with closure the Friends of Summertown Library group stepped in to raise funds from local people and firms to keep it open. Chairman Marcus Ferrar, of Summertown, said it showed what was possible when the community got involved but further cuts could pose problems. He explained: “What we are doing is a public-private partnership.
“I know from my experience of volunteers in other areas of Oxfordshire that it works very well.”
Mr Hudspeth has ruled out raising council tax by more than two per cent as this would require a referendum but Ms Huish said the option should be looked at.
David Williams, leader of the Green Party on the county council, said his group would back raising council tax.
He said: “We have said we would be prepared to go to a four per cent rise. It would only cost each taxpayer 17p for a referendum.”
THE SAVINGS SO FAR
- Oxfordshire County Council has already saved, or is in the process of saving, £290m between 2010 and 2018.
- Ian Hudspeth has said it will also need to save another £50m to £60m by 2020.
- Last month the authority proposed closing all 44 of the county’s children’s centres and seven early intervention hubs as part of plans to save £8m. The consultation is expected to open later this year.
- A consultation into cutting the number of waste recycling centres in the county closed earlier this month. The council said halving the number of centres could cut £350,000 from a £1.2m budget.
- People were also consulted on plans to axe subsidies from all county bus routes to save £3.68m a year.