AT 5.57PM yesterday, the axe fell on £119m of public services in Oxfordshire.
With one decision, 20 libraries and more than 20 youth centres are set to close, home care for the elderly will be passed into private hands and £13m will be wiped off road maintenance.
Three county rubbish dumps will shut, park-and-ride charges will rise and motorists will have to pay and display on city streets at the weekend.
Some 1,000 council workers will lose their jobs, transport to day centres for the elderly will halt and subsidies for vital bus links will be cut back. Only the fire service and child protection escaped the axe.
The ruling Conservatives on Oxfordshire County Council admitted their austere budget, which was voted in at the full council meeting, was “breathtaking” in scale.
Opposition leaders said it would decimate public services and throw the county back to a “Victorian age”.
But all agreed on one thing – this is just the beginning.
They agreed the full impact of yesterday’s decision – to cut £119m over four years – will begin to bite over the coming months and years, and will be felt in every corner of the county.
As the reality of those service cuts dawn, council tax is set to soar.
Frozen with Government help next year, the county’s share of the bill will rise by 2.5 per cent (2012/13) and then 3.75 per cent (2013/14).
During seven hours of debate at County Hall, pleas from the public to save services fell on deaf ears and amendments from opposition parties were quashed.
The ruling Conservatives offered “no apology” for the need for spending cuts.
Council leader Keith Mitchell said: “These are breathtaking sums and we would be foolish to claim they can be made without affecting frontline services.
“However, I do believe the Coalition is right in setting ambitious targets for cutting public spending.”
The leader, who placed the blame with the previous Labour Government, made it clear the picture would get worse as the cuts turned from budget figures to service impacts.
But he added: “It is my job to take it forward.I will get on with it, not gladly, but I will.”
Senior Tories admitted the budget contained “significant risks”, particularly in adult social care where untested efficiency drives and the unpredictable pressures of an aging population may scupper the council’s plan to save £37m.
If that happens, other service areas may be subjected to further cuts.
Scores of people turned up to the meeting, with many protesting outside.
Twenty were allowed in the public gallery while others watched the meeting via a video link in a nearby room.
Liberal Democrats tabled a one-year stay of execution for libraries along with extra cash for social care and youth services.
Had it found favour, it would have been paid for by charging a £1 entry fee at the county museum in Woodstock, plundering cash reserves and saving money on electricity bills.
Labour councillors came under fire for failing to table any budget amendments to show how they would save services and balance the books.
Blaming the Government for cutting too deep, too quickly, they claimed it would have been “disingenuous” to offer amendments to a budget they could not support.
Meanwhile, deputy leader for the Labour group Richard Stevens said: “This budget decision is just the end of the beginning.
“Two years from now we could have lost half our libraries, seen the youth service decimated and have enormous pressure on adult social care.”
The two Green councillors lost their bid to save libraries through even higher charges at park-and-rides.
- HOW YOUR COUNCILLOR VOTED
- YES: A Ahmed (Cons); Marilyn Badcock (Cons); Mike Badcock (Cons); R Belson (Cons); M Billington (Cons); N Bolster (Cons); A Bonner (Cons); I Brown (Cons); N Carter (Cons); L Chapman (Cons); J Couchman (Cons); T Crabbe (Cons); A Fatemian (Cons); A Fitzgerald-O’Connor (Cons); M Gibbard (Cons); P Greene (Cons); T Hallchurch (Cons); D Harvey (Cons); S Hayward (Cons); J Heathcoat (Cons); I Hudspeth (Cons); R Jelf (Cons); P Jones (Cons); S Lilly (Cons); L Lindsay-Gale (Cons); A M Lovatt (Cons); K Mallon (Cons); C Mathew (Cons); K Mitchell (Cons); D Nimmo-Smith (Cons); N Owen (Cons); G Reynolds (Cons); D Robertson (Cons); R Rose (Cons); D Seale (Cons); B Service (Cons); D Sexon (Cons); C Shouler (Cons); L Stratford (Cons); M Tilley (Cons); A Thompson (Cons); N Turner (Cons); M Waine (Cons); D Wilmshurt (Cons).
- NO: A Altaf-Khan (Lib Dem); A Armitage (Lib Dem); L Brighouse (Lab); R Darke (Lab); J Fooks (Lib Dem); J Goddard (Lib Dem); J Godden (Lib Dem); J Hannaby (Lib Dem); S Hutchinson (Lab); S Malik (Lab); Z Patrick (Lib Dem); S Pressel (Lab); A Purse (Lib Dem); John Sanders (Lab); Larry Sanders (Green); C Sherwood (Green); Roz Smith (Lib Dem); Val Smith (Lab); R Stevens (Lab); J Tanner (Lab).
- NOT PRESENT:L Atkins (Ind); C Fulljames (Cons); A Gearing (Cons); P Handley (Cons); T Harbour (Cons); H Hibbert-Biles (Cons); P Skolar (Cons); K Strangwood (Cons); D Turner (Lib Dem); C Viney (Cons).