doc

AFTER taking the reins at Oxfordshire County Council in 2012, Ian Hudspeth is the first to admit it has been 'a pretty difficult five years'.

But in that time the Conservative boss says his party has kept the books balanced and protected funding for services that support the most vulnerable people.

They have increased funding for child protection since 2011 and say controversial changes made to adult social care – such as the withdrawal of funding for some day centres – will ensure the service stays on a 'sound financial footing'.

But even so, Mr Hudspeth and colleagues have had to grapple with a brutal £380m of cuts since 2010 – a major challenge for any organisation.

And on the doorstep he may face tough questions from voters about the decisions taken to plug the gap, including axing bus subsidies, withdrawing council funding from 31 of 44 children's centres and closing 14 of 22 day centres for the elderly and disabled.

The county council also agreed cuts of £1.5m to support for homeless services last year, arguing it is in fact the responsibility of the much smaller district councils.

A ‘rescue deal’ has been agreed but this will still see the number of beds fall from 285 to 131. In Oxford, Simon House hostel and the Julian Housing service will close as a result.

Mr Hudspeth said there would be more hard choices ahead but insisted: "At a time when we are facing increasing demand, we have also faced diminishing amounts of money coming from central Government.

"It has been a pretty difficult five years, there is no doubt about that, but it is very important that we take those difficult decisions.

"We need to be able to provide services for the most vulnerable who really need them and to do that we have to live within our means.

"So we have had to redesign some services but we have protected where the funding needs to be."

He also points to unprecedented investment in new transport schemes in Oxford, which have included multi-million pound 'hamburger' roundabouts at Heyford Hill and Kennington, redesigned junctions at both Cutteslowe and Wolvercote roundabouts, the £6.7m scheme to overhaul Frideswide Square and the ongoing £12.5m Access to Headington project.

Elsewhere in the county, the £11.8m Harwell Link Road is also being built, with £38m set to be spent on a new bus lane along the A40 and a park and ride at Eynsham, and other finished projects including the £11.6m Milton Interchange and £11m of traffic improvements in Bicester.

Mr Hudspeth said: "We have been very successful at bidding for money to pay for infrastructure, which has been a key priority for this administration.

"Only the Conservatives can ensure that future schemes like the A40-A44 link road and the diamond junction for Lodge Hill, in Abingdon are delivered. Other parties might have very different priorities."

The Conservatives are fielding candidates in every county council division.

For a full list of candidates, see the Oxford Mail next Tuesday. In tomorrow's paper, we speak to Labour and the Liberal Democrats about their manifestos.