LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 01: Prime Minister David Cameron paints with vegetables during a visit to a children's nursery on June 1, 2015 in London, England. The new Childcare Bill will see free early education or childcare allowances double for working parents with a household income of less than £150,000 - although it is not currently clear how many hours they will have to work in order to qualify. (Photo by Carl Court - WPA Pool / Getty Images)

David Cameron has written, in his capacity as an MP, to Oxfordshire County Council to express his disappointment at their decision “to make significant cuts to frontline services – from elderly day centres, to libraries, to museums. This is in addition to the unwelcome and counter-productive proposals to close children’s centres across the county”.
Letter published in The Guardian, 11/11/2012

The background

Labour are calling for an investigation into whether David Cameron has broken the ministerial code by offering his own council use of his special advisors to consult on controversial finance decisions.

The row came after the Prime Minister made the unusual step of intervening when he heard that his local council in Oxfordshire are planning a string of cuts to high profile service.

He claimed that cuts to children and libraries could be avoided by “creative” thinking and more cuts to backroom staff.

Labour have been arguing for years that it is inner cities that are feeling the true brunt of the cuts.
Is leafy Oxfordshire really getting such a bad deal?

Children centres

In his letter David Cameron appealed to Oxfordshire County Council to spare children centres from cuts.

Oxfordshire County Council have put forward a proposal to close most of its 44 children’s centres (age 0-5) and seven early intervention hubs (6-19) to save £8 million in an effort to bridge the gap after cuts to government grants were imposed by the coalition.

A high-profile campaign against the closures has been launched in Mr Cameron’s constituency.

Although 36 is a high number, Oxfordshire is not the only place affected by children’s centre closures. And other councils have not only consulted on closing centres but have already shut dozens down.

Sam Gymiah, the childcare minister, said that as of 30 June this year, 250 “main” children’s centres had closed since April 2010 and 2,677 “main” sites remain open. An 8.5 per cent reduction. Labour have claimed double this number have closed.

As the graph shows, more than half of the 250 closures were by seven councils – Staffordshire, while Durham County Council, Stockport Council, Kent County Council, Bromley Council, Essex County Council and Wakefield Council closed 11 centres.

So far 48 councils have closed at least one children’s centre.

There have been no reports of Mr Cameron writing to these councils warning them to cut backroom staff instead of children centres, or offering special advisors to help them re-focus cuts.

Moreover, statistics from Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, (Cipfa) show that other areas in the UK are under far more pressure from children’s social care cuts than those in more affluent South East.

Museums

According to the Museums Association, 44 museums have closed since 2010. Of these, they identify 34 that have closed due to council cuts or cuts to central grants.

None of those identified are in Oxfordshire. London (5 closures), Yorkshire (4 closures), the West Midlands (3 closures) and Scotland (6 closures) are particularly badly affected. A further two museums are expected to close in the West Midlands next year.

The Museum Association lists no museums in Oxfordshire under threat of closure.

Libraries

Details on the exact numbers of library closures in different areas are hard to come by, but the headline figure is that they are closing across the country – just not in Oxfordshire.

Oxfordshire County Council said it planned to keep 43 libraries open and they remain so. Some 21 of those libraries are now staffed in part by volunteers.

According to the 2014 figures from Cipfa, the total number of libraries in the UK fell from 4,194 in 2012-13 to 4,145 in 2013-14.

This a net fall of 49 libraries and a drop of 1.2 per cent. It is an overall drop from the 4,482 open libraries in the last financial year of the last Parliament in 2009-2010. A loss of 288 libraries.

Elderly day care centres

A full survey of the country has not been carried out, but 57 per cent of frontline care staff surveyed by The University of Birmingham in 2012 said that elderly day centres were closing in their areas.

The trade union Unison, who commissioned the survey, said this amounted to a “hollowing out” of the service.

As one of its money-saving proposals, Oxfordshire County Council has suggested closing seven of its elderly day centres, but a firm decision is yet to be made.

Durham County Council has a proposal on the table to close to 13 of its 18 in-house day care centres. Meanwhile, Derbyshire intends to close down 4 care homes and axe six short-term beds at a day care centre.

In January two day care centres for elderly people with dementia were closed by Ealing Council.

A spokesperson for Cameron said: “There is still significant scope for sensible savings across local government to be made.”

“We will be discussing with Oxfordshire how this can be taken forward to help protect frontline services.”