Liz Brighouse, Labour group leader on Oxfordshire County Council

EACH year, setting the budget for Oxfordshire County Council becomes more and more difficult.

Each budget cut since 2010 has diminished the ability to find further cuts.

The cuts alone would be difficult enough to find, but in addition there is also the need to fund increasing demand for adult social care, children’s social care and to help ensure both adults and children are kept safe from those who would hurt them.

The cuts affect the most vulnerable in our county.

These services were originally put in place to provide support to those who needed services and to show empathy and humanity, which is the bedrock of a civilised nation.

They are the services which have been provided by democratically elected local government for more than a century. Services which the Conservative government seems determined to destroy.

When I first became a councillor in the 1980s, Oxfordshire ran what is now Oxford Brookes University, the colleges of further education, children’s homes, residential homes for older people, a large home care service, adult education, youth services, all of the schools, highways services, school meals, cleaning and maintenance of all its buildings. Much of this work has now been nationalised or we are required to commission it from others, including from companies who make a profit from Oxfordshire council taxpayers.

We have now been told local government will no longer be involved in schools and our highly acclaimed fire and rescue service could be run nationally.

Conversely, it has been decided that Whitehall will devolve the delivery of services to local government and others working together on delivery boards.

National funding is to be passed on to these “boards”, which as well as elected councillors will include others who are not elected by local communities and will not be accountable in the same way as councillors.

This so-called “devolution” is a response to the indignation of people in England that control remains in Westminster when those living in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have devolved powers to locally elected administrations.

What the people of England are being offered is not this. For local councils it is accountability without the power to raise taxes.

Central government will give the money and if it isn’t enough to meet the needs of the area, the devolved boards will have to make cuts just as Oxfordshire and local government across England are making cuts at the moment.

Oxfordshire had been required to make cuts of £50m and after its budget had been published, consulted upon and scrutinised, it was told it had to make a further £22m of cuts because it relied less on grant and more on council tax.

However, without a costly referendum on the level of council tax Oxfordshire County Council can raise, it remains at 1.99 per cent with an additional two per cent for adult social care.

Oxfordshire produced a second budget to reflect this. But if we were able to adjust the council tax to better reflect people’s ability to pay, we wouldn’t need to make yet more cuts.

So, for instance, by raising the tax on the top two bands of property, removing the single person relief for those who do not claim any form of benefit and increasing the tax paid by those with second homes in the county, we would not need to make life worse for older people, those with disabilities, young people and families with young children.

Many Conservative MPs revolted against this additional cut. So to keep them on board the government put in additional money just one week before the budget.

Oxfordshire was given a fig leaf of £4.5m in 2016/17 and 2017/18, so a third budget has now been produced by the Conservatives on the county council.

It is a contemptible way to run the economy of this country and further undermines local democracy.

Oxfordshire is one of the wealthiest counties in England and Oxfordshire’s elected government should be allowed to set the level of taxation it needs to fund the services needed by the people of the county.