The debate over the best solution for the devolution of local government in Oxfordshire has reached a new battle ground – grass cutting.
Cherwell District Council (CDC) has taken over some grass cutting responsibilities from Oxfordshire County Council (OCC) following recent budget cuts.
During 2016/2017, CDC says it will invest £42,839 and work in partnership with town and parish councils to cut 691,188 sqm of grass across the district including Bicester.
OCC which is responsible for maintaining all of Oxfordshire’s grass verges decided to reduce the service due to budget restrictions.
Mr Wood said: “OCC receives 75 per cent of residents’ council tax bills to help fund services such as grass cutting.
“However because it has run out of money, the funding for grass cutting was cut by half, which led to the county only cutting the grass twice a year.
“Not only does this impact on the appearance of our area here in Cherwell, but it also raises safety concerns regarding visibility so we could not stand by and let this happen.
“Although Cherwell is not responsible for this service, we are working in partnership with town and parish councils to make sure the grass is cut in the areas where it has the biggest impact.
“Due to OCC providing a reduced budget for highway grass cutting, we have worked to find the money to provide residents with the service they require.
“For us this only further demonstrates why we think we are better placed to deliver all services across Cherwell as part of the devolution proposals to replace district and county councils with a single unitary authority for the area.”
CDC will provide up to 16 cuts a year.
Mr Wood added: “At Cherwell we are in a strong financial position because we have taken proactive steps to reduce our expenditure without impacting on service provision.
“Not only that, we are now providing the services of others who cannot afford to do so themselves.
“This has not happened by accident but it doesn’t mean we have an endless pot of money to continue providing the services which others are responsible for.
“By pursuing the proposals for devolution this would give us access to additional funding to enable us to provide all of the services across Cherwell in accordance with the needs of those who live and work here.”
Nick Carter, OCC councillor for local government, business, ICT and customer services, said: “Safety is our top priority and we continue to cut grass to maintain clear sightlines at junctions.
“We would like to do more, but the county council has had to make savings on a huge scale because unlike districts, government is reducing funding significantly and we have to manage huge increases in demand for services such as social care for adults and children.
“If the districts are ever put in charge of social services they will understand what it means to balance the costs of grass cutting with protecting children from abuse and caring for vulnerable adults who cannot look after themselves.
“We are pleased the county council has been able to work with colleagues at district, town and parish councils to ensure that wherever possible local communities continue to get these services that are important to them.”
CDC is working with the county’s other city and district councils to promote proposals for devolution which could include creating single unitary authorities for each district to provide all services.