A TAX rise equivalent to £45 a year for the average home was agreed by Oxfordshire County Councillors at their latest meeting.

The county council approved its £485m budget for 2021/22 when it met yesterday, funded by a council tax rise of 2.99 per cent.

This is the equivalent of the average band D home paying an extra £45 over the course of the year.

It is not the full extra amount homeowners in Oxfordshire will have to pay, as additional increases are set to be agreed this month which will fund the police and district councils.

As the council debated the budget, its Conservative leader Ian Hudspeth said to vote against or abstain from the budget would be to ‘abandon the future of this county and abandon the future of generations to come’ and billed it as an investment in the future of Oxfordshire.

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The council had the option of increasing council tax by 4.99 per cent in total, with three per cent of this aimed at funding adult social care specifically.

It chose to only take one per cent of the extra rise, with the option of taking the other two per cent to fund adult social care next year.

But as the debate on the budget began, Liberal Democrat councillors said the council should have taken advantage the full 4.99 per cent, which could have resulted in an extra £8m for social services.

However, this led to bitter accusations of vote canvassing from their rivals, ahead of the local elections in May.

Lib Dem Liz Leffman said the council was ‘shrinking from the opportunity’ of the full increase.

She added: “How are you going to explain to people out there that you are not willing to go the extra mile to support elderly and vulnerable people?”

But Tory cabinet member Eddie Reeves said his opponent had been ‘facile’ and that the Lib Dems had not drafted any budget amendments or alternatives.

He added: “If they vote against it, they serve only to highlight their own rank incompetence and dereliction of duty for failing to submit an alternative budget of their own.”

Several amendments to the budget from the Labour group were approved, which means that £500,000 will be diverted from general youth services funding towards wellbeing support for children.

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A further £225,000 will be shifted in the adult social care budget to fund apprenticeships working in social care, and to search for smaller companies based in Oxfordshire who could provide care to people in need.

Labour opposition leader Liz Brighouse said bolstering social care was important for planning for the future, comparing it to the founding of the NHS after the Second World War and the rebuilding of London after the great fire.

She said: “It is incumbent on us to rebuild our communities and renew services in Oxfordshire so that those so severely distressed by the pandemic can come out the other side with the services they need.”

Green councillor Pete Sudbury said he was disappointed by the amount still being spent on roads, and did not think the budget did enough to tackle climate change, a concern echoed by independent Neville Harris.

In the rest of the budget, there are cuts totalling £19.6m, while at the same time there are investments of £25m in ‘core services’, including more support for social care.

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Some cuts and savings are due to an ongoing ‘transformation agenda’, which means the council is sharing some staff and resources with Cherwell District Council.

Others are as a result of merging management posts behind the scenes, and others still are a result of costs which were taken out because council staff are working from home at the moment.

The council has reduced its budget for printing and heating its offices for example.

Oxfordshire’s district councils will also start discussing their budgets over the next week.

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