Cherwell District Council agreed its annual budget during its full council meeting on 24 Feb 2020, with Labour and the Green Party opposing it.
During the debate on the soundness of the budget, Cherwell's Green councillor, Ian Middleton, argued that claims that this was a budget with a “Green focus” were highly exaggerated.
He pointed out that whilst the council was promoting a headline figure of £250,000 specifically to respond to the climate change emergency, this amount was to be spread over 5 years giving an annual spend of just £50,000 per year.
Cllr Middleton pointed out that this represented just 0.2% of the annual services budget and a little less than 0.01% of the capital budget.
Other measures being claimed as dealing with climate change by the council include the switch over to LED lighting in key areas, some woodland projects, some new recycling bins and a ‘delivery project’ for works on the Oxford Canal. Many of these projects are also cost-saving measures and municipal projects that were already in the pipeline, but even allowing for these to be described as a response to climate change, they only amount to some £528,000 in the coming year or just below 1% of the total capital budget.
Whilst acknowledging the financial pressures on local authorities as a result of government austerity and pressure for them to take a commercial stance on funding, Cllr Middleton condemned the budget as far too little in terms of climate change mitigation.
He said, “ If the council claims this is a budget with a ‘green focus’ I suggest they have an urgent sight test. In terms of the environment this is a very unfocussed budget and seeks to box-tick measures that are only tangentially related to climate change as being specifically for that purpose. For it to be described as a green budget I would expect to see at least 5-10% being spent on climate change mitigation measures.
“Whilst I acknowledge that, on an operational level, the council is addressing some environmental issues, until we take account of the full impact of all policies across the district they will never be able to claim to be genuinely focussed on mitigating climate collapse.
“Cherwell is a council hooked on growth for its own sake, and at the forefront of this addiction is its plans to decimate large areas of green belt in the pursuit of government funding and in support of the ambitions of the university to grow its presence in south Cherwell.
“This is not a sustainable way for local government to be funded, neither is the idea that councils should be forced to become commercial operations, setting themselves up as corporate entities to plug gaps in funding created by the government’s continuing austerity measures.”
In voting against the budget Cllr Middleton explained, “I went into the budget debate with an open mind and, having listened to all the arguments, I concluded that I could not support a budget that did not have the environment at its heart. We have declared a climate emergency, and we need to be seen to be putting our money where our mouths are.”
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