PARENTS rallied and protested against council proposals to axe £50m from its budget at the first in a series of events for the public to have their say.
Children’s centres were the main talking point of the evening after more than 120 people gathered at County Hall in Oxford to quiz Oxfordshire County Council leader Ian Hudspeth as the authority works out where it should swing the axe.
Short presentations explaining why the council’s reasons for having to cut services were given, before a Question Time-style debate was opened to the floor.
Campaigners were mostly interested in the effects on children’s centres and adult social care.
Mr Hudspeth, who was joined by a panel of council officers, said he wanted to hear ideas about where some of the cuts could be made.
He added: “If you stand up tonight and say to me ‘you cannot cut that service’ then please tell me where else cuts can be made.
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“We may have to cut more than £50m, we may have to cut less. It’s about working together and that’s why we are holding the consultations. We have to set a balanced budget.”
In the audience was father-of-two Alex Palmer, who said he felt “dejected” after the questioning event.
The 37-year-old added: “I don’t think the situation has got better.
“We have used Cutteslowe Children’s Centre and it has been a lifesaver for us.
“It seems like they aren’t listening and that the council has already decided where it is going to cut. I don’t understand how the council doesn’t see the link between children’s centres and the numbers that go into adult social care.”
The consultation was the first of three events for the public to voice their opinions after the authority said it would have to make “tough decisions” on how to balance the books in the face of Government cuts.
The county council said the 90 options suggested, which total £52.6m, represented “a worst-case scenario” in which the Government would cut its budget by up to £50m.
It added that the fresh round of cuts proposed would start from next year and continue into 2019/20, with the authority rolling back much of what it provides to focus only on helping the “most vulnerable”.
Children’s centres across the county are under threat of closure as part of a shake-up to save more than £6m.
The county council said it could no longer afford to support all of the county’s 44 centres due to ongoing budget cuts.
Jill Huish, from Banbury, attended the consultation event with about 25 other parents campaigning against the potential closure of her children’s centre.
Some of the group taped their mouths shut and wore placards with “may as well say nothing”.
She added: “We are fighting for all 44 of the children’s centres.
- Dejected: Alex Palmer gets his question across
“It would be absolutely devastating is they closed. They are vital services that need to stay open.”
Emma Burnett from Botley said she understood the position the county council was in, but that it did not make it okay to just scrap certain services.
The next consultation event will take place at Banbury Town Hall on November 2 from 7pm to 8.30pm, followed by another on November 5 at the Regal Centre in Wallingford.
People can also have their say by sending comments to the council by accessing their website at oxfordshire.gov.uk