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OXFORDSHIRE TO BUST CAP FOR A SECOND YEAR

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Oxfordshire CC will set a cap-busting budget again this year - once members of the hung authority can agree on a fi...
Oxfordshire CC will set a cap-busting budget again this year - once members of the hung authority can agree on a figure by which to breach government spending limits.

The council's political groups were forced to adjourn a budget-setting meeting until week after they all submitted different budget packages in excess of Oxfordshire's capping limit of£339.5 million.

The Liberal Democrats tabled a budget£13.7m above cap, the Green Party£9m above cap, Labour£8m above cap and the Conservatives£6m above cap.

The county voted for a budget£7.4m above cap last year, only for environment secretary John Gummer to insist that it stick to its original£332m limit.

On that occasion the Tories voted against breaching the cap, but group leader Charles Shouler said this year was different because 'the reductions needed in one year are not sustainable if we are to give priority to education'.

Labour group leader Bob Langridge said: '£8m above cap is far below the needs of the people of Oxfordshire but we have attempted to do the best we can.'

Liberal Democrat group leader Dermot Roaf said: 'We are proposing a budget to protect the most vital services and we will negotiate with all the other groups in good faith.'

Band D council tax for Cambridgeshire CC services - the precept to be added to district council tax bills - will rise by£23 or 5% to£470.97 a year following the county's decision this week to set a budget of£409m.

But Cambridgeshire has approved cuts across the board, despite taking nearly£3m from reserves to cushion the blow for education and social services.

Liberal Democrat leader Maurice Leeke said: 'The government's allocation of cash for Cambridgeshire is woefully inadequate. We were permitted only a 2% increase in expenditure when inflation is running at nearly 3%.'

Band D council tax levels for Surrey CC services was this week set at£488.52,£27.90 or 5.7% higher than the 1996-97 level. Members agreed to spend at Surrey's capping limit of£587m, drawing£14m from reserves to protect services and so allowing the council to spend a total of£601m in 1997-98.

But Surrey was still forced to make cuts, including£1.7m from the non-schools education budget.

Essex CC has confirmed that it needs to make£22m in savings to meet its spending limits, even though it has already earmarked reserves to deflect the impact of what would have been a£50m cuts package. The county meets to set its budget next week.

Shropshire CC will also vote on its final budget plans next week, which involve cuts of£3m.

As LGC went to press, Gloucestershire CC members were locked 'in huddles' trying to thrash out a budget. Budget proposals from Liberal Democrats on the hung council were defeated only on the casting vote of the Labour chairman. A spokeswoman said: 'They would be in smoke-filled rooms, but we're a non-smoking council.'

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