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Ahead of the all-out elections in 2016 we on this side of the chamber made a pledge.
We pledged that if we gained control of this authority, we would not raise Council Tax; not without explaining why we were doing it.
This is because we don’t want to raise peoples’ council tax. But we are prepared to do it, if the alternative is cutting people’s services.
For us, being honest and straight with residents is more important than boasting on a campaign leaflet.
Now here we are three years later, with the group opposite telling us that they now need to raise the council tax.
But they are not being honest with people.
Granted they have told us that they are getting less money from central government. But this isn’t even the half of it.
The reality is that this authority is in the same position as every other council in the land; whether red, blue or another colour.
The truth is that they are on the frontline of a deliberate government policy of cuts.
Councils have lost 1/2 of their income which has decimated our public services.
Hundreds of libraries, childrens’ centres and youth centres have closed.
Family support services have been wound down.
Mental health funding has been slashed.
For those who doesn’t drive, there are no longer the buses to help you get to work, the shops or just to visit your friends and relatives. Just ask people living in Hanwell Fields or Fritwell.
Then there are the elderly. Those who have worked all their lives and paid into the pension pot. Only to be denied the care that they need when they need it because of a social care system that is in an “unsustainable position”. Those are the words of the Leader of Oxfordshire County Council Ian Hudspeth.
Then there is the crisis in homelessness.
The number of people living on the streets has more than doubled since 2010 because of welfare cuts and because councils’ cannot provide the support needed to stop people becoming homeless.
Spending on housing has halved, allowing private sector rents to skyrocket.
Spending on the environment is down by a fifth.
Spending on planning is also halved.
And culture, which we on these benches still believe in as a public good, has been slashed by over a third.
Now they will claim that these cuts are nothing to do with ideology. That they are instead a necessity.
But let me tell you what else has been cut 2010.
Income Tax. Corporation Tax. Inheritance Tax. Capital Gains Tax.
All of them cut. All of them costing billions of pounds that could go into
The reality the Conservative Party do not believe in pubic services.
That’s why they have cut money to local government.
That’s why they have cut taxes for the wealthiest businesses and
It is also why they have imposed a cap on the amount that council can raise Council Tax.
Just in case an authority decides that their priority is protecting local services, than providing good copy for an election leaflet.
It also explains their latest plan for local government finance. They now want to remove ‘deprivation’ from the calculations for how much money a council gets. This means poorer areas will lose out to the wealthiest.
Shame on them.
Then there is their boast of financial competence. Let us not forget that it was a Conservative authority in Northamptonshire that went to the wall.
Nor can we ignore the fact that Tory council like Somerset, East Sussex, Norfolk and Lancashire are heading the same way.
Yet it is Labour councils like Newcastle, Manchester and Liverpool that have been hit the hardest and harshest by the cuts, though they have managed to stay afloat and continue to provide public services for their residents.
Finally we turn to the budget on the paper in front of us. Their financial plan is built on an accident of geography; the M40.
New Homes Bonus and Business Rates represent 2/3 of this budget.
Houses and Warehouses built along the motorway by developers allow them to maintain the pretence that they know what they’re doing.
This an authority that has failed to get its accounts in on time in 3 of the last 4 years and that lost taxpayers money because it forgot about a debt valued in millions.
That’s why they’re so relaxed about an Oxford to Cambridge Expressway cutting across our district and destroying natural habitats and eco-systems.
They think they can use it like they have the M40 to plug the gaps in their financial plans with yet more buy-to-let houses and warehouses.
We’re not buying it Chair and we won’t be giving them cover for their ideological endeavours.
And it is for that reason that we won’t be supporting this budget.”
The speech was given on the setting of the council’s budget for the 2019/2020 year at a meeting of Full Council on Monday 25 February 2019, at Bodicote House.
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