A COUNCIL leader has been accused of pulling an “election stunt” by pledging not to make cuts.
South Oxfordshire District Council officers have put forward a savings package of almost £1million in response to a 16 per cent cut in the authority’s Government grant.
But council leader Ann Ducker has pledged not to go through with them and instead draw on its £27million reserves.
The Conservative was reported as saying: “It would be wrong to make cuts when we have money in reserve to cover the shortfall. I am not accepting any cuts.”
But Henley town councillor Barry Wood (Independent) warned residents not to be “seduced” by Cllr Ducker’s promise, which he claimed was designed to win votes in the run-up to council elections in May.
“It’s a welcome move but it’s an election stunt,” he said. “I’m sure people will say how wonderful it is but it’s not wonderful, it’s what ought to be expected in these difficult and austere times.
“The council’s income has exceeded expenditure and it should be spent for the good of the residents of Henley and South Oxfordshire.” Cllr Wood, a former district councillor, said: “The district council has very big reserves.
“Over this last four-year cycle, it has been overcharging and not spending all the money it has been taking from council tax, so its reserves have accumulated.”
Henley Mayor Jeni Wood said using the reserves was a “jolly good idea” and suggested that Oxfordshire County Council could reduce its multi-million pound cuts by using the £8.5million it has in the bank.
The proposed savings include:
lCutting up to 11 police community support officers to save £99,200.
lCharging more for collecting garden waste, from £32 to £34 a year.
lA £10,000 cut in car park maintenance.
The package will go out to public consultation. A citizens’ panel will be held on January 14 to get residents’ views and a business breakfast on January 19 will get the views of businesses. Steve Bishop, the council’s director for finance, insisted he wanted to strike a balance between using savings and reducing services.
He said: “The amount of money the Government gives the council will drop by 26.9 per cent over the next two years, which is estimated to grow to 40 per cent over the next four years, so officers have submitted proposals to help plug the gap.
“We are very well-run financially and this has allowed us to make significant investments in our towns and provide a high level of services, while at the same time ensure the council has a secure financial future.”
The council cabinet will consider the proposals next month before the 2011/12 budget is agreed.
The consultation will close on February 1. To give your view, visit southoxon.gov.uk/haveyoursay and for more information, call (01491) 823093.