THE axe has fallen on more than £51m of council services in Oxfordshire this week.
Councillors at County Hall approved four-year savings of more than £46m on Tuesday, just one day after the city council’s financial plan to cut almost £5.4m by 2017 was rubber-stamped.
Council tax, parking charges and social housing rents have also been increased to cover the void left by reduced Government handouts
But it’s not all doom and gloom, with a £40m capital spending programme going ahead in Oxford over the next year, and £100,000 of extra funding approved by the county council to promote growth and skills.
Ian Hudspeth, leader, Oxfordshire County Council, defends the council tax rise, park and ride charges and cuts to the highways budget.
He said: “I’m as disappointed as anybody with the need for a rise in council tax, but we want to make sure we protect services, particularly for the most needy and vulnerable people in Oxfordshire and protect against the need to make deeper cuts in the future.
“With regard to potholes, the most important thing is we have the area stewardship budget for another year and it’s focused on road maintenance. We have repaired 39,000 potholes this year, and although I would hope there won’t be 39,000 to repair next year, we will try to repair every defect which is reported to us.
“I understand traders’ concerns about the park and ride charges, and we have taken what they have said on board. We will be looking at all the different ways in which the charges can be levied. They might be variable charges, with different fees later in the day, but it will all be looked at during the consultation.”
Today local government reporter Freddie Whittaker looks at some of the ways we are going to be affected by the latest round of budget cuts.
ROADS (AND PAVEMENTS)
CAMPAIGNERS are worried a new hole in the county highways budget might leave even bigger holes in their streets.
A total of £1.01m will be stripped from the road maintenance budget between 2015 and 2017.
It comes at a time when the council is repairing more and more potholes and is on track to deal with 39,000 this year, compared with 8,902 in 2008/09.
The cut comes as a worry to 74-year-old Brian Ponting from Mill Lane in Marston.
He said: “We have to walk into the road to avoid the potholes on pavements, which are filled with water. That isn’t very safe, especially when there are parked cars and you can’t what’s coming down the road. There are problems on the pavement and on the road. If a cyclist hits one it could be very dangerous.”
The authority hopes to receive a slice of a £200m pothole fund announced last year by transport minister Norman Baker to help plug the gap.
WITH bills rising across the board, a council tax hike of more than £40 a year will sit heavily on the Taylor family’s finances.
Naomi Taylor, 34, is a postwoman and her husband Martin, 37, is a factory worker for Tesco. Together they try to make ends meet for their four-year-old triplets Harry, George and Holly. They earn about £38,000 a year before tax – £1,410 a month goes on bills and rent and £1,000 a month on petrol and food.
A 20 per cent increase in precept from Witney Town Council, together with a two per cent rise from both Oxfordshire County Council and Thames Valley police, mean their council tax bill will increase from £1,498.25 to £1,544.69 a year.
Mrs Taylor said: “We will definitely notice that difference. We’ve got three children, I’m working full time, my husband is working full time and it’s still hard to keep things on the line. We don’t live a lavish life and we notice every time any bill goes up. We budget to the last penny.”
She said she was concerned further cuts in Government grants would mean council tax would continue to soar over the next few years. She said: “I do worry about how far it’s going to go. They keep putting these rises onto us and we don’t get anything in return.”
Council tax precepts from Oxford City Council and Vale of White Horst district council will also go up by two per cent. West Oxfordshire and Cherwell district councils have frozen their council tax precepts, and South Oxfordshire will cut its share by two per cent.
HIKES in parking charges could cripple Oxford city centre, according to traders.
From April, the Thornhill and Water Eaton facilities, run by the county council, will charge for daytime parking, and £3 per 24 hours for long stay users.
And charges for parking at the city council-run Peartree, Seacourt and Redbridge sites will go up from £1.50 per day to £2.
The increases are on top of a two per cent hike in parking charges in the city centre.
Graham Jones, chairman of the ROX traders’ association, said: “I think it’s bad news.
“They don’t seem to appreciate that the retail scene has changed completely. I thought they had got that message but clearly I was wrong.
“We now have a lot of businesses in warehouses with much lower business rates which can trade very successfully over the internet.
“As a result there’s a lot of pressure on the high street and other satellite areas like Summertown.”
Mr Jones said the council should be encouraging people into the city, not turning them away.
He said: “Even the people who think about it and get a bus instead of clogging up the city streets are being hit.”
He added that traders up and down the UK had written to Chancellor George Osborne calling on him to freeze business rates over the next year.
The county council is due to consult on the amount it will charge for daytime parking at its park and ride sites. Long stay charges have already been set.
INVESTMENT worth £40m will take place across Oxford over the next year.
As part of its budget, Oxford City Council approved a capital programme which will see widespread spending on council assets.
Among the beneficiaries will be the city’s pavilions, which are having £470,000 spent on them, and work has already started at Cutteslowe Park.
The pavilion is owned by Oxford City Council and is the home venue for Wolvercote Cricket Club and North Oxford Football club.
Cricket club secretary David Quinn said: “We’ve relied on the council facilities for a number of years now and we very much like playing at Cutteslowe park, it’s very convenient for us.
“However, there have been complaints in the past, particularly from visiting teams about the state of the facilities. Not the playing surface itself, but the other facilities, like the showers not working. We’re very pleased this work is going ahead. I’ve seen the plans for the new pavilion and it’s going to bring a better vibe to the place.”
City executive board member for parks and sports Mark Lygo said: “The improvements will help provide a much improved facility that will help increase wider usage and participation in sport.”
The works, which will cost £200,000, have just started and will be completed by August. They include improvements to the changing rooms and toilet areas, an improved multi-function room and alterations to windows and doors.
In his speech on the county budget on Tuesday, council leader Ian Hudspeth announced plans to earmark an extra £100,000 to promote growth in the county.
He said the money would not be ringfenced for a specific scheme, and could be spent to get match funding from other organisations for projects which improved the economy, or on skills or training initiatives.
AT A GLANCE: COUNTY COUNCIL SAVINGS 2013-17
- Savings from prevention and intervention work to prevent costly care bills: £3m
- Savings from schools budget because more become academies: £1.2m
- Cancellation of area stewardship fund: £1.09m (from 2014/15)
- Suspension of some road maintenance schemes: £1.01m (2015-2017)
- Savings through shared budget with the health service: £1m
- Suspension of property maintenance work: £907,000
- Extra income from park and ride daytime charges: £500,000
- Less back-office work on behalf of schools: £500,000
- Reduced staffing and office costs in the chief executive’s office: £283,000
- Savings from outsourcing to Carillion and Capita Symonds: £360,000
CITY COUNCIL SAVINGS 2013-17
- Savings from establishment of customer services contact centre: £191,000
- Staff savings in housing department (four posts): £139,000
- Redundancy of two environmental service managers: £115,000
- Extra income from 15 per cent increase in planning fees: £100,000
- Temporary accommodation costs: £100,000
- Outdoor market maintenance savings: £60,000
- IT improvements: £56,000
- Saving on temporary staff with automated payment system: £55,000
- Furniture budget savings: £50,000
- Reduction in grant to Visit Oxfordshire: £48,000
- Development consultants’ fees savings: £20,000