The Oxfordshire County Council budget meeting today was set to last 10 hours, but eventually only lasted the normal 5 or so. I made a speech on the inadequate response from Labour as the official opposition to the Tories and another supporting the Green amendment to have a referendum to save vital lifeline services for our most vulnerable neighbours.
I didn't get to make my main speech against the budget, but here it is:
Let's be clear: the initial blame for these cuts lies squarely with the central Government who is determined to complete their callous, ideological assault on public services.
And let's remember who is responsible for the economic crisis that the Tories are now using an excuse to dismantle public services.. It's the banks that crashed the economy, the banks refused to lend to businesses and individuals, forcing a financial crisis into the real economy and causing the longest economic slump 1870s.
And now they along with the global economic elite have got steadily wealthier since the recession.
Yet the Government continues to be a soft touch when it comes to making them pay their fair share. Tens of billions in tax is avoided and evaded every year, the Government has done virtually nothing about this but still instead bullies the most vulnerable by trying to remove the support they rely on. That makes it clear to me whose side they are on.
If we just look at a few of the other things this Government has done recently, it really does blow out of the water any claims that these cuts are necessary.
Let's start with the drive towards centralising decision making and resources about local economic development. This used to rightly be the role of Councils, yet at the same time as hundreds of millions have been cut from Council budgets in Oxfordshire we're seeing money ploughed into the Local Enterprise Partnership, an unelected quango that local people have no say under.
And then there's the floods. Whilst it's quite right that Cameron should promise "money is no object" in aiding recovery in communities affected, why is that only the case now, after cutting the EA's budget?
Why is there now all this money, that couldn't be spent on supporting vulnerable people in need?
Why are food banks now such a shameful part of this country's approach to keeping people fed?
Why has the Government seeked to viciously reduce spending on disability benefits, and countless other ways we help vulnerable people?
It shows just how unnecessary these cuts are, this Government is intent on finishing the job Thatcher started of making us a meaner, more individualistic society by undermining our belief that we are entitled to quality public services and to look after each other.
Our residents and service users are being asked to pay for a crisis that has nothing to do with them, and yet its affecting all of us, and the outrage that those responsible have felt none of the -consequences goes on and on, first as farce and then accepted fact of life. This is intolerable.
Let's be clear that austerity is a political choice to not take on the most powerful in society and instead to bully, intimidate and neglect the least powerful and those whose voices are quietest.
Let's look at what this Council has done to defend the people it works for, and indeed it is shameful how little this Cabinet has done to resist the assaults on the services we provide for vulnerable people. They sent a letter to Eric Pickles kicking and screaming when this Council forced them to, and it was clear their heart wasn't in it.
It is simply nonsensical to say we can continue to provide services that are fit for purpose with the amount of cuts we are now facing, on top earlier cuts and more cuts before that.
We all know how stretched our adult social care team is and the risk inherent in that budget. We all know about other examples of this. We are being reduced to a situation where we do not do anything we aren't legally obliged to do or fix anything that isn't deemed legally unsafe.
Our ability to do anything with a distinct local approach is being taken away, we are becoming little more than a local agent for a brutally downsized state.
This budget contains line after line of proposed "savings" which seem to be basically stabbing in the dark, hoping the cut can be made. Meaningless terms like "creating pathways which reduce costs whilst continue to ensure needs are met".
There are also pure unidentified cuts totalling millions. This is not the fault of the officers who have been put in an impossible position but an administration that doesn't have the guts to go to the people of this county, explain the situation and ask them to chip in a bit more to reduce the damage being done.
Our role as Councillors means providing and defending the services we provide for our residents and service users. This means the Government shouldn't be able to cover their ears and not still hear how catastrophic for our communities these cuts are going to be.
Vital services that serve disabled people, the homeless and refugees fleeing terrible experiences are at risk of closure. There will be more people sleeping rough more people with complex needs not getting the help to live independently. At the end of the day we are responsible for the services we provide and the impacts that any cuts make.
This budget is callous, cruel and makes unacceptable reductions in services for the people who rely on them. This is the result of a lack of willingness to take the difficult but necessary step of going to the people of this county, and asking them chip in a bit more for the services our most vulnerable neighbours rely on. For that reason I will be voting against this budget.
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