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Cameron asks his constituency to ‘look again’ at ‘devastating’ cuts

Prime minister David Cameron has once again advised the Conservative leaders of his local council to “look again” at its budget proposals after the council’s leader announced £69m of planned savings for this Parliament.

In a letter sent to Oxfordshire County Council, in response to its cabinet’s warning of the “devastating impact” of cuts, the prime minister said he understood it will be challenging to make further needed savings – but urged it to reconsider its plans.

“Oxfordshire and other councils must continue to reform the way they work to become more efficient, both in back-office functions and in front-line service delivery,” he said in a statement today.

“The recent Spending Review… made it possible for councils to sell property assets and use the capital to invest in transforming local services – and ensure further savings.”

Earlier this week, the council’s leader, Cllr Ian Hudspeth, was “desperately sorry” to announce that cuts to the county would have to go even further than imagined, with these options once considered just a worst-case scenario that councillors believed would not be needed.

“The clear message from our budget consultation in the autumn was that making proposed savings would have a real impact on people and communities,” he said. “We will be doing everything we can to help communities manage their impact. It should be remembered that this is our sixth consecutive year of having to make cuts and by 2020 we will have completed a decade of savings.”

The letter from the prime minister follows similar correspondence in November, after which Cameron was accused of breaching the ministerial code by offering special help to his Witney constituency in the face of looming cuts.

The exchange triggered a wave of criticism of ministerial hypocrisy at the time, as well as accusations that the prime minister failed to understand the impact of his own government’s cuts.

This was further exacerbated when Hudspeth sent a letter to Cameron detailing, in a six-page analysis, accurate figures showing the depth of the county council’s financial plight, despite reductions in back office expenditure.

Speaking to the Oxford Mail this morning, Cllr Hudspeth said the county council’s deep cuts were a result of the government’s “difficult decisions to reduce the national deficit”, an aim which it had always been clear about.

“There is no row. We are two men trying to do very difficult jobs in a difficult situation,” he said. “The county council is using its reserves, selling its property assets and working on co-location with other authorities to become more efficient, so to be quit honest Mr Cameron and I are both saying similar things.”

Overall, Oxfordshire has been forced to bring savings originally proposed for future years back into 2016-17, as well as slash spending in certain areas in a one-off basis, including library services and training budgets. It also warned that there will be more cuts to come after the council assesses whether there are different ways of working, with a lot of debate still expected in the coming months.

(Top image c. Paul Toeman)


Alison Graham   21/01/2016 at 13:44

As a local government councillor, not of its ruling party persuasion, I have nothing but sympathy with the drastic cuts we now have to make , yet again, in this year's budget. As a ward member, I ache for my increasing inability to help residents who are suffering, because of cuts to services. I don't blame my authority. I do, however, blame a central government which transfers the responsibility for the cuts to local level, so that the blame and anger will be aimed at us. This is under the guise of ' localism'!

Peter   22/01/2016 at 08:51

As a career local government officer, I am in two minds. On the one hand, I find it increasingly challenging to do what my own Council and Central Government want me to do in an era of persistent cuts. On the other hand, I struggle with the outmoded management practices that still exist. We still have too many layers of management, we still undertake pointless tasks just to 'feed the machine', and it is still incredibly difficult to challenge the status quo. Part of me is glad I'm not far off retirement but a larger part of me is seriously concerned for the future of public services. I for one am fed up with telling communities that there is no money and is down to you to look after yourself.

Linda   28/01/2016 at 06:51

Dial a ride in Witney is being axed because they need to save £250,000. A service that is a life line for many elderly in the town and surrounding areas. Pay rise for councillors £250,000!!!!!! If there are such drastic cuts why are they having a payrise and why penalise the elderly?

PSE   28/01/2016 at 09:18

Hi Linda, a £250,000 rise in allowances would seem to be VERY large for a small council, are you sure that's right? Do you have a source for that?

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