OXFORDSHIRE county councillors have agreed they should get a 19 per cent increase in basic allowances one day after warning of a further £20m cuts in services.

Last year the county council outlined cuts of £64m, then on Monday it outlined a further £20m would be lost as demand for adult social care and children’s services increases.

Yesterday, at a meeting at County Hall, the majority of 61 councillors in attendance agreed to back recommendations of an independent remuneration panel.

Thirty-eight voted in favour, 20 against and there were three abstentions.

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It comes after chief executive Joanna Simons last month described the council’s finanical situation as “very serious” and announced a recruitment freeze in an attempt to tackle the issue.

As reported in the Oxford Mail, she sent a letter to all county council staff asking for suggestions on how to plug an £11m shortfall the council had identified.


Didcot West Labour county councillor Nick Hards, who voted against, told the meeting: “I think it would be foolish to vote for such a large increase in allowances.

“How can we look the public in the face when we are about to make vast cuts in social care?”

But county council leader Ian Hudspeth said: “Councillors’ allowances are always an issue, and always very sensitive, even during the economic boom times of 2001 to 2008. We can vote in favour of it, we can vote against it, but if we vote against it what is the point of having an independent panel?”

Mr Hudspeth said it was the right time to vote on the rise. He said: “The independent panel produced a report and it had to be debated and voted on at some stage otherwise it would just lie there. It made sense to vote on it at today’s council meeting.”

Mr Hudspeth, who voted yes, said he would like the panel’s recommendations to be automatically accepted by the council to stop “posturing and grandstanding”.

He added: “At 54 I do not consider myself to be a young member of the council, but why are we not attracting younger councillors? They have their jobs to do and if someone has to give up a day’s pay to come into the council then that will be a dispute for them.”

Liberal Democrat group leader Zoe Patrick added: “Councillors would be doing prospective councillors a disservice by not agreeing to this report.”

And David Bartholomew, Conservative Independent Alliance councillor for Sonning Common, who also voted yes, said: “I look around the chamber and I see hard-working councillors but with two or three exceptions there are no young faces. The vast majority of councillors are retired and we need to attract younger people.”

The independent panel worked out that the average age of the council cabinet was 64.7 years and that councillors worked the equivalent two days a week as a basic requirement.

The county council said that Oxfordshire has one of the lowest allowances of local authorities in the South East.

Appleton pensioner Betty Griffiths raised her concerns about cuts to bus services with the county council last month after a review suggested the No.66 bus from Faringdon to Oxford should not divert through the village.

She said: “It does leave rather a bitter taste in the mouth if we know we are fighting for a bus route to keep going and they are getting rises.

“I am sure they work very hard but some services such as welfare are really suffering and we should not suffer as a result.”

In Monday’s cuts package, £2m was earmarked to be saved from supported and subsidised transport.

Oxford Bus Users chairman Hugh Jaeger said: “I will not condemn the rise if all the services survive but if any are withdrawn then we will be very critical.

Oxford Federation of Community Associations secretary Dorian Hancock said: “How can Ian Hudspeth sleep at night in the knowledge of all the cuts he has to make but at the same time award fellow councillors a rise?”

The overall cost of the increases agreed was £150,000, but if some councillors choose not to accept any increase the total will end up being less.

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