I was asked a good question on the doorstep last night. A Labour voter, who has very kindly agreed to support me and Debby Hallett, nevertheless gave me a good 10 minute grilling about the government cuts. The particular issue he raised was about the 'hypocrisy' of local council candidates being photographed in front of Botley Library when it is under threat due to 'Coalition cuts'. A good question and my response was as follows - with apologies that it is a bit long-winded, but pity the poor man who asked me the question and then had to listen to this on his doorstep...
The threatened cuts to libraries across Oxfordshire are 100% the responsibility of the County Council. The coalition government has made cuts across the board and local government has been included. That's because the country is poorer than we were in 2008 and savings have to be made, so the pain is being shared as widely as possible. Local councils have been given clear advice about their budgets for coming years and they therefore have the freedom to make decisions about how to save money - a freedom denied under the previous government, which was far more prescriptive about how councils could spend their grant funding.
In the Lib Dem Vale, senior management has been cut and some staff reductions have been made, making savings of several hundred thousand pounds each year in perpetuity. The County Council has decided that it would rather cut frontline services like libraries. The Vale's decisions have not been easy but they have safeguarded services. The Vale still has one of the lowest Council Taxes in the country and it is one of the best performing councils in England. That's the result of hard work, committed staff and sensible budgeting.
I'm not being a hypocrite by having my picture taken outside Botley library or by joining the library campaign. I am a regular library user and I want to see all our libraries kept open. That will require the kind of tough decision-making Lib Dems have had to do at the Vale. I will continue to support the library campaign to ensure that as much pressure is put on the County Council to think again about threats to important frontline services like libraries, which have benefits far beyond their role as simple lenders of books. That's not hypocritical: it's a clear, unequivocal commitment to North Hinksey and Wytham.
I'm grateful for the pledge of support I received from the voter last night and I hope you will consider supporting Debby and me on May 5th.