Oxfordshire Liberal Democrats

Oxford Lib Dems Criticise City Budget

Oxford City Council's Cabinet has agreed a budget for the forthcoming years that makes significant cuts and digs deep into the council's reserves.

COVID has put all councils under significant financial pressure, but Oxford was left unusually exposed due to adopting a high-risk approach to financing the council's activities. In particular owning a large portfolio of commercial property (mostly shops and offices in the city centre) meant that any recession, whether pandemic-related or not, would leave the council in dire straits. Added to that, government COVID support for councils did not cover commercial property income, leaving Oxford relatively worse off than councils that took a safer approach.

Inevitably some of the revenue shortfall has been met by cuts: the Housing Needs division, whose important functions include preventing homelessness, is slated to lose £300,000 per year, for example. The budget bills these as efficiencies, seeking to maintain service levels using less money, but history is littered with examples showing that usually less is less, and cutting the budget harms the service.

Most glaringly wrong-headed was a planned cut of £70,000 per year aimed at the city's advice services, which provide assistance and signposting to people in difficult circumstances, including struggling those with benefit claims or otherwise in financial distress. It was clear from the outset that this cut was a false economy, and the cabinet itself has belatedly recognised this, making an 11th-hour adjustment to restore £25,000 per year of the amount cut. Oxford Liberal Democrats are continuing to press for the full amount to be restored.

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