This afternoon I seconded the Green Party County Council budget amendment, which would have triggered a referendum on stopping £10m of the cuts to local services over the next 4 years. We looked at defending the most vital services for our most vulnerable neighbours, including services for homeless people, learning disabilities, welfare advice and crisis loans. This is roughly what I said:
When I stood for election to this Council last year, one of the main things I ran on was making the case for defending vital services for our most vulnerable neighbours in the way this amendment seeks, so I'm very happy to be seconding it today.
What our alternative budget shows is that many of the cuts to frontline services which will be forced onto the most vulnerable people in Oxfordshire are unnecessary.
Our budget shows that if we trust the people of Oxfordshire to chip in on average an extra 30p a week, then we could save much of our frontline services.
Cllr Hudspeth says that there is no evidence that the people of Oxfordshire would vote yes in a referendum.
But we started in December by making the case for a referendum, that we do have a choice as a county of how much of these cuts we pass down to our residents and service users. And what was clear was that when the situation was explained to people they overwhelmingly supported chipping in a bit more.
It was only when Cllr Hudspeth realised he was losing the argument that he was forced to move the goalposts by quoting a 22% rise, to stop all the cuts, that people started saying they couldn't afford it, which is of course too much to ask for.
There is more evidence to say people would vote for a rise than they wouldn't. 55% in the online consultation supported the idea, and a clear majority in the two meetings where a reasonable rise was suggested. When I was campaigning last year for this in my division I struggled to find many people who didn't want the referendum.
Everyone says we have extremely tough choices to make. We have a choice to go along with that and protest that we don't have a choice, or can put our political careers on the line by asking our neighbours to chip in a bit more to minimise the damage to morally acceptable levels.
I want to work for a society where we care about each other, and we can make a meaningful, real, grounded contribution to that by asking everyone to pay an extra 30p a week as a safety-net against what this Government is doing. I'm more than happy to put my neck on the line to make the case out there for the world I want to live in, and if we all do the same I think we can convince people that a more humane society is something worth paying slightly more for.
When this process started, the Greens said we should be finding as many ways as we can to raise extra revenue to defend services. That's what we've done in our amendment and have found £10m over the 4 years to put back in.
By taking this bold step we can make a huge difference to the number of service reductions included in this budget.
We can completely stop the 38% reduction in homelessness services, which make such a difference to the lives of homeless people in Oxford.
We can prevent £2.7 million of cuts to services for people with learning disabilities which have not been explained in terms of the impact they will have.
We can stop the scrapping of social fund loans which help people in crisis situations and which can't really be provided by any alternatives out there.
We need to show that there is an alternative to austerity and slashing of services, both to austerity nationally and to simply lying down and accepting these cuts locally.
Having this conversation as a community is the start of a real fightback against austerity as we talk to our neighbours about what the services under threat mean to people. Once we do that, we realise what's at stake, and we can push the Government harder to stop on the current path. That is a real step to ending round after round after round of brutal cuts to our funding, not protesting a bit before simply passing on the cuts to our residents.