Oxfordshire DisUnited?

Pictures of Oxfordshire county splitting

Enough is Enough is deeply disappointed, but not surprised, that Cabinet recommended that Full Council adopt £69m of budget cuts to front-line services on 16 February. Whilst respecting the legal duty to provide for a balanced budget, this is a smokescreen for proper debate about the morality of cutting services to children’s centres, voluntary run day services and many other prevention services, including rural bus services, which prevent social isolation. A brave decision would have been to listen to local residents, reject the budget proposed and lobby national government for a better settlement. Let the hunger games begin.

We mustn’t see these cuts in isolation. They come on top of year-on-year downward pressure on social care budgets, which are creating an environment for registered social care businesses to be unable to work in the County (many home care businesses have pulled out of the Oxfordshire market over the past few years). Nationally, there is huge pressure on care homes with a prediction that 50% may go out of businesses in the next few years with a catastrophic effect on social care and the NHS. These potential pressures are harder to see because they are accumulating in different places; unlike Southern Cross, where one organisation went under.

There has to be a better way to respond to the ideological demolition of public services by national government and the short-sighted destruction of the very prevention services that save the tax-payer £millions by local government. Oxfordshire devolution is the latest game in town; a formal integration of NHS and social care that builds on Oxfordshire’s long-standing and successful pooled budget arrangements. A cautionary note – the NHS doesn’t get social care; a diverse, creative, innovative, market-driven businesses are anathema to a state-run, controlling, overly bureaucratic national treasure. It is a match made somewhere else but in heaven. #Enough is Enough fears OxDevo will be a combination of local political governance coupled with the long arm of Westminster – the worst of both worlds. And we haven’t yet mentioned clinicians. Let the power struggles begin.

One of the lowest profile issues in Oxfordshire during this season of budget cuts is the focus on local government reform; in particular the debate about unitary councils. It tends to raise it’s head usually in the context of fewer councils would mean less democracy.

Enough is Enough proposes that in the current climate of fast reducing resources for front-line services, the luxury of six councils, and assorted councillors, is not something the people of Oxfordshire can afford. With a population of only 650,000 a single authority can adequately represent its residents, but it needs the political will to move this forward, either locally through debate, or nationally through legislation. Let musical chairs begin.

As we move further into uncharted territory and the public sector delivery roll-back continues unchecked, we face stark choices. If front-line services (and service users) are being asked to shoulder the burden of this latest scything, we need our leaders in local government and the NHS to put aside their territorial battles. However, unlike fans of our beloved local football club, we are not optimistic. Oxfordshire feels very disunited at the moment.