Oxfordshire’s Green Party County Councillors have written to David Cameron following his ill-informed comments on the County Council’s dire budget situation offering him lessons in financial literacy and setting out five simple measures that he could support which would alleviate Oxfordshire's financial crisis.
The County is facing drastic cuts to services as a result of the Government’s austerity measures and is planning to close libraries, museums and children’s centres, make further deep cuts in social services, remove bus subsidies and more besides to make up the annual £50m shortfall in funding. In his leaked exchanges with the Conservative County Council Leader, Cllr Ian Hudspeth, the Prime Minister was shown to have little grasp of local government finances and, in particular, the cuts and spending pressure being faced in Oxfordshire.
To help the PM to understand some of the basics, the Greens have set out five positive actions that the Government could undertake which would help safeguard frontline services in Oxfordshire. And most of them will not even cost him a penny.
- Remove the 2% Council Tax cap. Currently, if the Council wanted to exceed this it would have to fund a costly (£0.8m) referendum. A survey conducted by the Greens when they first raised this idea in 2013 demonstrated that a majority would be willing to pay at least £1 per week more. This would generate over £10m a year for the Council coffers. A current Oxford Mail survey suggests that a majority still support an increase.
- Give the Council the freedom to extend Council Tax bands. Currently the highest ‘H’ band is for properties rated £320,000 and over. This could raise £5m.
- Remove the ring-fencing restrictions on Council budgets. Currently, Government imposed accounting rules mean that Councils are limited in they spend revenue from certain sources. For example, money raised from car parking charges cannot be spent on social care. This could free up several £m’s.
- Re-direct some funding from the various economic development quangoes to the Council. The Oxfordshire Local Economic Partnership alone has received £55m from the City Deal and is in line to receive many £m’s more from the regional and local growth funds.
- Finally, and this is the only one that will directly cost the Government money, the PM should reverse the cuts to the revenue support grant and instead invest in a better, brighter future for the people of Oxfordshire.
Says County Green Group Leader, Cllr David Williams, who has more than 30 years of Local Government experience. “It is shocking that David Cameron seems to have such a weak grasp of local government finance. If he is willing to pay for my time, I will happily take him through the basics. I will donate my fee to one of the many local services to suffer from the County Council cuts.”