FEARS have been raised that help for tourists in Oxford might disappear in the future if the city council does not reverse funding cuts.

Oxford City Council approved its 2020/21 budget at a meeting on Thursday night, but a separate meeting to discuss whether council tax should be increased by 1.99 per cent to meet budget commitments will be held on February 24.

Cabinet member for finance Ed Turner praised the broad agreement in the council chamber on spending commitments to tackle the climate crisis, build more council houses and get rough sleepers off the streets.

But there was disagreement over how the city council helps to fund tourist information services in the city, with the Liberal Democrat group proposing to reinstate funding for Experience Oxfordshire, the organisation which promotes tourism in the city.

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Lib Dem councillor Liz Wade said it would be an ‘own goal’ for the city council if it did not continue to invest in the visitor centre.

Ms Wade said: “Because of council cuts, EO has been forced to look at whether it can continue to provide a tourist management service for the city.

“If it has to close, and it has asked the council for a decision in March, we would be the only major tourist city without professional tourist management.”

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Liz Wade.

But Mr Turner said tourists in Oxford were increasingly turning to apps and the internet for tourist information instead of visiting the centre.

He added businesses and other groups which benefitted from tourism needed to provide more money for Experience Oxfordshire.

The city council originally slashed its grant funding for EO in last year’s budget.

In February last year, the council agreed the £173,000 annual grant should be cut by £20,000 in April, then reduced by a further £25,000 in 2020, with no grant given from April 2021.

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Oxford's visitor information centre is leased to Experience Oxfordshire by the city council. Picture: Andy Ffrench.

Because of the unexpected cuts to public funding, EO has been running a budget deficit since 2019, having to spend £220,000 of its own reserves to make up the shortfall.

After the meeting Hayley Beer-Gamage, chief executive of Experience Oxfordshire, said: “From Experience Oxfordshire’s point of view, no discussion has been made yet about what services we can provide in the future.

“Obviously the cuts have had an impact on service we can provide. We are also looking at alternative options and reviewing how we do things.”

Ms Beer-Gamage said EO’s board was due to meet in March, and added the charitable organisation was committed to making sure it had a sustainable future.

Oxford Mail:

Hayley Beer-Gamage.

The Lib Dems’ budget amendment also called for a survey of tourist coaches which visit Oxford, with a view to getting a better understanding of the big picture of tourism in Oxford, but it was voted down.

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Lib Dem opposition leader Andrew Gant said the council needed to take a more pro-active approach to managing and supporting tourism in the city.

A Green party amendment was also voted down which included measures for a fund to help people building sustainable homes to Passivhaus standards.

What was in Oxford City Council's budget?

The final budget which was approved included measures to tackle rough sleeping, with Linda Smith, cabinet member for leisure and housing, saying it showed the council was committed to preventing people having to sleep on the streets.

She said: “This budget increases our investment on preventing homelessness and rough sleeping to £7.4 million next year.

“The increased investment means that the council will spend an extra £1.2 million on tackling homelessness and rough sleeping in the coming financial year, a 19 per cent increase on 2019/20.”

The council has also committed to protect spending on front line service for the next four years, despite no longer receiving Revenue Support Grant from Government.

It is also promising £1 million of extra money in the next year for climate change measures, as well as £18 million of capital investment on decarbonisation measures over the next four years following the Citizens Assembly on Climate Change.

A £136 million pot of money will be used to build 620 much new council-owned homes in the future.

At the meeting, members of the council’s Labour majority praised a total of £20 million which had been brought into the council’s coffers over the past year by its two wholly-owned companies, Oxford Direct Services and Oxford City Housing.