Cherwell District Council budget set despite lack of support from opposition parties

Cherwell District Council budget set despite lack of support from opposition parties
Cherwell District Council budget set despite lack of support from opposition parties

Cherwell District Council’s budget for the new financial year has been set despite a lack of support and criticism from opposition parties.

The Conservative-led council will put up rents for housing tenants by seven per cent – for example, £35 on a £500 bill – while Cherwell’s portion of the council tax bill for a band D property will go up by £5 to £148.50 from April.

At the same time, the authority plans to mitigate growing financial pressures by making £1 million worth of savings, around half of which was already planned.

The council’s net revenue budget, the cost of providing its services, will be more than £28 million, up by almost £5 million, up from 2022/23, but the bulk of the extra money will go to contingency funds.

The Conservatives hold a slim majority on the council and voted through the plans despite the Progressive Oxfordshire Group – a coalition of Liberal Democrat, Green and independent councillors who form the official opposition – choosing not to vote for or against and Labour rejecting the framework.

Opposition parties can formally submit amendments in advance for those in power to consider but decided not to. Much of the criticism that followed was directed at the way the central government funds local authorities.

Councillor Adam Nell (Con, Adderbury, Bloxham & Bodicote), the district’s portfolio holder for finance, reflected on an “eventful and turbulent year financially”, citing inflation, interest rates, supply chain issues and soaring fuel costs.

“I am pleased to say, even in this turbulent year, we have managed to set a budget that not only balances but one which avoids any large changes in services, rents or charges that we make to members of the public,” he said.

“This is a considerable feat, and officers (council staff) are to be congratulated for achieving it. Many other councils up and down the country, anecdotally, have fared worse, having to make large cuts or impose major additional charges.”

Councillor David Hingley (Lib Dem, Adderbury, Bloxham & Bodicote) said the Progressive Oxfordshire Group was “frustrated” by levels of government funding.

“Multiple cuts over the years have piled the pressure on councils with the result being severe risks to the ongoing integrity of the services they provide,” he said.

Councillor Hingley also called for “greater clarity” in how council spending is presented, adding: “Increased signposting to the very many appendices would be beneficial to avoid the charge, even where unwarranted, that information is hard to find in the multitude of tables and text. It must be easy to read and accessible for all.”

Labour group leader Councillor Sean Woodcock (Banbury Ruscote) highlighted cuts to funding for Banbury Museum in a withering assessment, while colleague Councillor Rebecca Biegel (Banbury Grimsbury and Hightown) questioned whether enough was being done to protect the poorest from housing rent rises.

“Can we be absolutely sure that mitigating actions will offset this risk? I would say in the wider sphere of support, the Conservative government’s reliability and records on delivering a functioning welfare system is frankly appalling,” she said before highlighting cuts to debt and money advice contracts.

“Savings have to come from somewhere, but really? During a cost of living crisis this is one of the most vital services we can provide to Cherwell residents. I would strongly oppose any cost savings that adversely affects provision.”

Councillor Nell invited written submissions on any specific points relating to the budget to help “refine and improve” a “detailed and complex budget designed to benefit the residents of this district”.

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