So the Oxford Mail has got a scoop. David Cameron, who, as well as being the Prime Minister, is the MP for Witney, has corresponded with Cllr Ian Hudspeth, the Conservative Leader of Oxfordshire County Council, challenging the proposed cuts in front line services. The paper got hold of the PM’s letter – along with the council leader’s reply.
Neither the Prime Minister nor Cllr Hudspeth had any motive in leaking the exchange. Perhaps Cllr Hudspeth had sought the assistance of council officers whom he felt he could trust when drafting his reply – and then a bureaucrat with an eye for the main chance decided to make some mischief.
As far as I’m concerned, getting a bit of scrutiny of Oxfordshire County Council’s finances is welcome.
In 2013 I criticised their proposal to increase the Council Tax. Cllr Hudspeth replied about how a rural area faced greater challenges than an urban one. Would I like to spend a day with him and he would lend me some wellies… Rural and urban certainly face different challenges but that is to change the subject as to whether maximum value for money is being achieved.
Why is Oxfordshire’s Band D Council Tax £1,232? That is the highest charge of any county apart from (Labour-run) Nottinghamshire. In Staffordshire it’s £1,047. In Hampshire it’s £1,038. In Somerset it’s £1,027. They have farms in those counties too.
The Prime Minister criticised the proposed “unwelcome and counter-productive” plans to close children’s centres. As well as the proposed cuts to elderly day centres and libraries. Cllr Hudspeth makes some good points about the significant savings that the Council has already achieved. It is fair to point out that local government has made a rather bigger contribution than central government. Yet the crux of the matter is whether more could be saved without cutting services.
Cllr Hudspeth said in his letter to Mr Cameron that Oxfordshire had increased the number of children in care to 574 at an average cost of £49,000 per year. Spending has gone up in this area from £40 million in 2009/10 to £64 million this year, added the council leader. Did he not hear the Prime Minister’s Party Conference speech which demanded that far more children in care should be placed for adoption? Also why has Oxfordshire got over 50 children who are in mainstream education in hugely expensive and damaging institutionalised children’s homes?
Why has Oxfordshire County Council got 12 press officers? (I suppose they may be kept busy today but the tally is excessive.)
Why is the list of shared services so derisory?
Why is the Council’s Director of Public Health and its Director of Children’s Services each paid more than the Prime Minister?
Why does the council spend £233,000 on full time union officials?
Cllr Hudspeth complains in his letter about the Council Tax referendum threshold meaning he was “unable” to push the Council Tax burden even higher. That is a revealing comment as it concedes that the residents of Oxfordshire would not have given their consent to any such rise. That is because they know that the Prime Minister is right and Cllr Hudspeth is wrong. The council could and should make further savings without cutting front line services.