We should all know this story by now: David Cameron didn’t realise the effect his own government’s spending cuts would have on his own local council, and got into an embarrassing mess discussing it with the council’s leader.
He ended up offering help from Downing Street advisers – which, acting as a constituency MP, was not within his power.
Now more details of the effects of his cuts – on his home county – are beginning to become clear:
Away from the political wrangling between Conservative prime minister and Conservative council leader over the best way to implement the government’s austerity programme, service users are left feeling depressed and angry by the scale of the proposed cuts. The dry language of the Oxfordshire county council budget saving options 2016-17 paper conceals efficiently the depth of unhappiness likely to be unleashed across the country should these options become decisions.
The document lists 95 possible ways to save money, ranging from stopping council funding of all-day centres used by elderly and disabled people to the closure of mobile libraries; ending of the preventative falls service to cutting the funding for the dementia support services; reducing support funding for carers to stopping funding some homelessness services; reduction in support for people who are HIV-positive to cutting respite services for disabled children to shutting all the county’s 44 children’s centres.
The 46-page consultation document acknowledges the potential problems… It includes a helpful impact column next to each of the 95 proposals, offering a frank assessment of the difficulties that the cuts may cause. Next to the suggested cuts to day care centres, the impact column in the consultation document states flatly: “This could lead to increased social isolation, hospital admissions and care home placements.” Next to proposed cuts to the dementia services, the document warns: “More people in the county now have dementia so reducing the service could affect the ability of the service to meet demand. This could also lead to increased costs elsewhere, eg increased admissions to care homes.”
The picture the document evokes in emotion-free prose is bleak, and service-users last week organised protests in Oxford and marched this weekend in Cameron’s constituency of Witney to express their concern. In their arguments, most have a sophisticated response to closures; beyond worrying about how they will fill the gap in their own lives caused by cuts, they also highlight the costs that the removal of these services will trigger for the local authority further down the line.
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