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County faces £50m more cuts after Government grant reduced
OXFORDSHIRE residents are facing two more years of misery because the county council has to make an extra £50m of cuts.
In 2011 the local authority announced a four-year £119m savings plan that would finish in 2015.
Now those measures will have to be extended until 2017, to cope with further Government funding cuts announced earlier this month. It brings the grand total of cuts needed to £169m. Of that, £92m has already been accounted for, which leaves £77m to be spread out over four years.
The announcement once again brings the threat of major service and job cuts for the authority, which deals with areas including transport, education and adult care.
The council announced in December 2010 it expected to make 1,000 redundancies over the course of the savings, but that was when it was only spread over four years.
Council leader Ian Hudspeth refused to rule out redundancies, with opposition councillors already warning the cuts will hit the poorest hardest.
Mr Hudspeth, above, said: “We have had a difficult time in making cuts to date and there are more difficult times ahead, there is no getting away from that.
“In the New Year we will propose a budget and that will make clear how we will make our savings.
“Our focus will be on protecting as far as we can the most important services while providing value for money in tough times.”
He said savings would have to be found across all departments, and job losses could not be ruled out.
He said: “We’re going to look at all the budgets and try to protect frontline services.
“We would obviously always try to avoid redundancies but we can’t rule anything in or out at this stage.”
The original £119m savings programme included funding cuts for libraries. Initially it announced closures, but later U-turned to save the facilities but instead staff them with volunteers.
The council handed control of its Redbridge, Seacourt and Pear Tree park-and-ride sites to the city council, saving cash, and the city council started charging for parking.
By scrapping its seven-day target for mending potholes and through other measures, the county council also saved £13m from its road maintenance budget.
Initial plans to save £4.2m by closing youth centres were scrapped, but redundancies in the youth service were still made.
Labour group leader Liz Brighouse said cuts would have had to be massive even if the Government grant hadn’t diminished by 11 per cent.
She said: “It’s absolutely disgraceful that central Government is carrying on borrowing more money and at the same time local Government is being forced to make cuts which affect the most vulnerable people.
“The debt isn’t being brought down, we’re forcing more people out of work and on to the dole. It’s scandalous.”
Unison regional organiser Steve Waite said he was stunned by the scale of the cut in Government support for the council.
He said: “We regret any further cuts to services, but we recognise the pressure Oxfordshire County Council is under.
“These draconian cuts will probably result in local councils changing permanently from what we have been used to, that’s how big this is going to be.
“From a Unison perspective, we will have dialogue with the council in the New Year and we will work with them to try to mitigate the impact on our members and on the public.”
The Liberal Democrats were not available for comment.