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Ruby Anstee – Editor
Stuart Littleford – Reporter
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Councillors To Decide On Budget

Councillors will vote tonight on Oldham’s budget for the coming financial year. The authority is having to make savings worth £41m, because of cuts in the funding it gets from the government.

The Liberal Democrat/Conservative coalition which runs the council has warned that as many as 800 jobs could be lost under its proposals, largely in the labour-intensive areas of social care for adults and children. However, it has stressed that no libraries or leisure centres would close under its plans, while the level of council tax will remain frozen.

Councillors will also consider alternative proposals put forward by the opposition Labour group. There’s not actually that much difference between the two potential budgets, with Labour disputing just over £3m of the £41m savings. Indeed, since Labour announced its plans last month, more than £500,000 of its alternative savings have now been accepted by the Lib Dem/Tory administration.

The main sticking point is over the administration’s proposal to outsource elderly care to the private sector, albeit with a mystery shopper-type monitoring system to make sure companies don’t skimp on home visits and so on. Labour opposes the move, which would save an estimated £1.5m, and has suggested a variety of other savings from elsewhere in the council budget instead.

With 27 Lib Dems and five Conservatives among the 60 councillors, the administration’s budget is likely to be passed. However, last week Labour group leader Cllr Jim McMahon appealed to Lib Dem and Tory backbenchers to vote with Labour by writing to each of them, saying: “I believe some of the cuts being proposed will damage our borough and will be extremely difficult to reverse once council approves them.”

The only Green on the council, Cllr Ian Barker, is expected to support the 27 Labour members, but that would still leave them three short of a majority. So without a surprise rebellion at tonight’s meeting, it will be the Lib Dem/Conservative budget which is approved.

The meeting begins at 6pm. You’ll be able to follow live updates from Saddleworth News on Twitter here.

You can get the full details of the various proposals by looking at the agenda for the meeting here.

A Saddleworth News interview with council leader Howard Sykes from last week can be read here and here, while Jim McMahon’s letter can be viewed in full here.

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