Oxfordshire Conservatives propose trimming council tax rise in alternative budget

Oxfordshire Conservatives propose trimming council tax rise in alternative budget
Oxfordshire Conservatives propose trimming council tax rise to 3.99% in alternative budget

The cabinet at Oxfordshire County Council will be asked by the Conservatives opposition to consider an alternative budget trimming a proposed rise in council tax but cuts funding for climate goals.

The Conservative opposition wants to limit the rise in the county’s portion of council tax to 3.99 per cent, two per cent of which is ring-fenced for adult social care.

That would save the average household – a band D property – around £17 per year and leave the council with approximately £4.4 million less in the coffers.

The Tories have proposed to increase spending in some areas, adding £100,000 to get through more education, health and care plans (EHCPs) for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), plus a further £100,000 to maintain home-to-school transport.

Another £900,000 of revenue would be given up to trial free parking at Park & Ride sites, adding to the savings that would need to be found elsewhere.

The £800,000 to pay for replacement fire engines would be cut with new equipment acquired as and when necessary out of capital funding, a separate pot of council money.

Cash to fund transport hubs would be axed, saving £1.5 million over the next three years, but the council’s report warned it is “less likely that local residents will have opportunities to use more climate friendly travel arrangements”.

A £3 million pot dedicated to planting trees that are cut down during highway works would be trimmed to £750,000, leading to the council replacing trees “at less than half the rate of its removals, continuing to contribute to unmitigated canopy loss”.

A further £800,000 would be cut from the budget to make the county’s maintained schools more energy efficient.

The tweaked package of plans will be considered by the Fair Deal Alliance cabinet of Liberal Democrat, Labour and Green councillors at tomorrow’s annual budget-setting meeting (Tuesday, 14 February).

Leader of the opposition Councillor Eddie Reeves (Con, Banbury Calthorpe) argued that the council tax cut, however small, would “demonstrate that we are on people’s side”.

“There is a balance in all of these considerations, the cost of living impacts, the climate impacts and the impacts on frontline services,” he said.

“If you spend in one area, you have to trim in another, and we think, given that bills are going up to the extent that they are and have been for 12 months, that sending a clear message that the council is living within its means is vitally important.

“Even with the £4.4 million worth of savings we have identified, council tax would still go up by a significant amount.”

On the climate aspects, he added: “It is a fair and reasonable disagreement between the administration and opposition as to what the council is for.

“We strongly believe that if you look at it as a business, it is about protecting the vulnerable over and above everything else.

“It is not for the county council to tackle issues of national and international concern. That is not to say we do nothing on the climate agenda, far from it, but rather than spend money, why is the council not looking to do things like rationalise its estate?

“What we have tried to do is strip out discretionary spending as we see it, focusing on the most vulnerable and targeting spending on two areas (SEND and home-to-school transport). The free park and ride is a sensible policy to trial that is not overly expensive in the context of one year.

“We think it is a good and balanced package, one that sends a message to residents that the council is looking to live within its means whilst having a laser-like focus on delivering frontline services, particularly for the vulnerable.”

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