IN RECENT weeks we’ve seen protests about proposed cuts to bus subsidies, children’s centres and household waste recycling centres.

Such protest is obviously not new. Oxfordshire County Council is now in its sixth year of having to make cuts to budgets – as is most of the public sector.

We all feel the sentiment behind such protests and understand that feelings are running high.

We are now entering a phase of having to make the toughest decisions yet. They will be difficult for Oxfordshire residents, our staff and councillors alike.

I fully support central government taking similar tough decisions as it continues to face the challenge of lessening a national debt so that it is not passed on to future generations.

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You will learn more in coming days about options we are considering to save what could potentially be about £50m on top of the £290m we are already in the process of saving from 2010 to 2018.

At the same time that we are having to reduce public services, the local economy is thriving, with unemployment among the lowest in the country.

That is not to say that services such as children’s centres or subsidised bus services are not valued or wouldn’t be missed.

I know how much some people depend on them. But with less money our priority must be to protect services for those who need them most.

I remain confident that where public services are reduced, communities may be able to step in. We will help them do so.

Several community libraries are being kept open by volunteers.

Communities are already coming forward to see if they can help to keep children’s centres open – just as happened when funding for youth services was reduced a few years ago.

So why are we having to consider further cuts to services?

I am keen to get across the message that the time of “quick win” easier savings passed some years ago.

Our staffing is down by a third and our senior management by 40 per cent, we’ve outsourced services such as finance and HR, we’re sharing services with other councils, we’ve sold more than 100 properties and we’re in the lowest 25 per cent of local authority spenders on management and support functions.

No council has been allowed to put council tax up by more than two per cent since 2010.

The cost pressures of social care continue to rise as more and more people need to come in to care for various reasons.

We spend 50 per cent of our budget on two per cent of the population (the most vulnerable older people, disabled adults and children in need of protection).

We need to save money from other services to fund those vital services.

Meanwhile, grants from central government are consistently reduced year after year to help reduce the national deficit.

People are bound to have long debates about whether austerity is correct or not.

The day-to-day reality for us at Oxfordshire County Council however is that the cuts are happening.

Our response to that is that our focus increasingly needs to be on vital services for the most vulnerable – children at risk of abuse and adults who cannot look after themselves.

We will be asking whether people share that view. Where there is a different way of saving the money, we’d love to hear it.

However there is no alternative to cuts. Simply not saving the money from the area you care about most means saving more from an area about which someone else cares just as passionately.

We don’t have the option of borrowing lots of money. Councils are required by national law to set an annual budget in which expenditure matches income.

The enthusiasm and passion you show for our services through protest is evidence that as a community we collectively care deeply.

If we can channel that passion it may be that we can grab hold of this difficult situation and influence Oxfordshire’s future in a positive way.

Where the council has to reduce or withdraw funding, we are determined to find ways to keep services running through community support.

Speak to us, tell us what you think, get involved: but please do it in a spirit of recognition that, locally, we can’t change the sums – and that limits our discretion regardless of our individual political persuasions.