Oxfordshire County Council is arranging a series of meetings to hear from us what we value in their services, and how to cope with a threatened extra £60 million of budget cuts.
Please go along and tell your stories of how much we depend on what the council does for us, and how you or someone you know is or will be affected by cuts to these services.
Earlier this year, Oxfordshire County Council agreed to make the fourth consecutive budget to deliver major cuts in services. The total savings are £200million, of which £60million are said to have been reinvested, for a cut of £140million. The area most damaged has been Adult SocialCare, which bears at least 40% of the burden, a total of £56million.
This was in response to national government cuts in funding to local councils, and rules that required councils to hold a referendum to increase council tax by more than 2%. The county council rejected a Green Party amendment to increase council tax by 3.5%. We were convinced that Oxfordshire people would be willing to pay 40 p/week more to protect services for old and young people in the county.
But now older people are paying £15 for each visit to a day centre, and £5 for transport. The council even proposed limiting free transport for children going to school to the nearest school, even if the house is in the catchment of a school further away. After an outcry, they are reexamining this.
Now the national ConDem coalition has further limited council tax rises. Unless Oxfordshire asks us to support higher council taxes in a referendum, the council has to find another £60 million in savings now, and £90 million between now and 2017/18. Each department has been looking at possible savings, and sending out letters warning staff and supported organisations. For example, the Director for Children, Education and Families said they will have to find £22.5 million by the end of 2015/16, a cut of 20%, requiring wholesale change. Having hit the elderly, the new vouncil motto could be suffer the children. How many children's centres will have to close?
However, these are only proposals. The county council budget will be worked on by council staff, and voted on by councillors in February 2014. In the meantime, Oxfordshire County Council has started an informal consultation, a kind of listening exercise, to find out from people in Oxfordshire which services we value most, and collect suggestions for increasing income and reducing spending.
In Talking Oxfordshire, the county council is asking, Help us understand what's important to you when we have to make tough financial decisions. We have less money to spend and public services will have to change. We want to hear from residents about the services they value most and which ones they could live without.
This exercise starts with a series of public meetings, run by the county council engagement team. The meetings will have an independent chair (a journalist), and will be run to collect as many ideas from the public as possible. All council heads of departments will be there to listen to their masters: the residents of Oxfordshire whom they serve. After the meetings, there will be an online consultation, plus an opportunity to engage through social media. They have not yet decided whether to do a participatory budgeting exercise, in which residents choose spending priorities.
There are 5 meetings:
- Mon 14 Oct - Banbury, Town Hall
- Tue 15 Oct - Oxford, County Hall
- Mon 21 Oct - Wantage, Civic Hall
- Wed 23 Oct - Didcot, Cornerstone
- Thu 24 Oct - Witney, Henry Box School
In my experience, I have found that the most effective inputs to such listening exercises are the personal stories of people who use the services, and have been or will be affected by cuts. The engagement team are collecting issues and ideas for a report on what the public wants. So please invite along anyone you know who uses Oxfordshire County Council services.
As for ideas on how to deal with the budget, lets come up with lots of different imaginative ideas. Don't leave the planning to austere accountants, boring bureaucrats and callous councillors.
Remember, the aim at this stage is to politely make our case, so that the consultation report shows how important these services are to people in Oxfordshire.
The Oxfordshire Green Party wants to hear your stories of experiences using council services in Oxfordshire. We will use the stories to prepare our response to this consultation, and a Green budget for Oxfordshire.