Local campaigners accused Oxfordshire County Council of hiding from their electorate today as news broke that full council meetings in January and February would be closed to the public.  The unprecedented decision to close the public gallery and cafe has been taken by the Council Cabinet in response to criticism of the programme of cuts they are putting forward at the meetings.  While the meeting on 9th January will discuss several items related to the finances, the meeting on February 15th will vote on the final budget itself, including the proposed cuts to libraries and youth centres.

Campaigners called the decision a "disgrace" and demanded that the public be allowed to observe the meetings in person.  Gawain Little, Chair of Oxfordshire Anti-Cuts Alliance, called for greater transparency in the budget process.

"This decision is a complete trampling of local democracy," said Mr Little.  "I would ask Keith Mitchell and his cabinet colleagues why they are so afraid of the people they claim to represent.  The public should be entitled to see what their political representatives are doing in their name and have the right to challenge decisions which are clearly not in the public interest."

The decision has also drawn fire from Labour Party and Green Party Councillors.

Larry Sanders, Chair of Oxfordshire Green Party, said, "This shows that the County Council is acting as a tool of central government, rather than seeking to represent local people."

John Tanner, Labour County Councillor, said, "The Council will effectively be making decisions which affect everyone in Oxfordshire in secret.  This is entirely unacceptable and will be challenged by Labour members."

The Anti-Cuts Alliance has called a protest outside the County Council from 9am on Tuesday against the cuts and the decision to discuss them in private.