Updated budget proposals for 2022/23 to help make the county greener, fairer and healthier along with careful plans to meet current and future financial challenges have been proposed by Oxfordshire County Council’s Cabinet.
Challenges include uncertainty over government funding for all local authorities, the ongoing impact of COVID-19 that continues to place pressures on the county council’s day-to-day services and affect its income streams, alongside a growing and ageing population, which puts more pressure on budgets and services. Particular pressures, with predicted future funding shortfalls, are being felt within social care for both adults and children and in assessments and support for children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND).
The budget proposals first announced in December focus on placing funding where it is most needed and investing in services that will have a positive long-term impact for local communities. These proposals were consulted on from 2 December to 5 January, with 1,392 responses received. Just over half (52 per cent) of respondents supported a proposed council tax increase of 4.99 per cent, of which 3 per cent is specifically for adult social care.
At its 18 January meeting, Cabinet approved that the proposals should be put forward for consideration at the council’s annual budget-setting meeting on 8 February.
Councillor Liz Leffman, Leader of Oxfordshire County Council, said: “Following the local elections in May 2021, the Oxfordshire Fair Deal Alliance formed to lead the county council. Our vision is to lead positive change, working in partnership to make Oxfordshire a greener, fairer and healthier county. We have developed nine priorities to deliver this aim. These include putting action to address the climate emergency at the heart of our work, tackling inequalities and supporting carers and the social care system. Our first budget has been designed to support these priorities.
“We are committed to the responsible management of the council’s finances. To reach our goal of a balanced budget for 2022/23, we are planning ahead carefully to meet current and future financial challenges. We are also working on identifying savings across the council to enable us to invest in our priorities and meet our demand pressures.
“Challenges include uncertainty over government funding, the ongoing impact of COVID-19 and an ageing and growing population, which puts more pressure on budgets and services.
“Since early December, when our scrutiny committee discussed these proposals, there have been updates to the overall situation. The balance of government grants and updated revenue figures will lead to an additional £6.8 million of funding. However, this is all one-off money for 2022/23 that does not recur for the following financial years. We are, therefore, very restricted in terms of how this can be allocated.
“Cabinet has now formally agreed its updated proposals which take account of public feedback and updated grant and revenue figures. The budget as a whole will now progress to its final stage – the council’s annual budget-setting meeting on 8 February.”
Proposals agreed by Cabinet will now be presented to the council’s annual budget-setting meeting on 8 February. These include:
- Allocating £500,000 to support the proposed review into home-to-school transport. This will help move to any new arrangements, with a particular focus on supporting more active travel and more sustainable transport opportunities.
- Offering a one-year rent holiday to organisation operating from council-owned properties to take account of financial pressures many community and voluntary organisations have faced during the pandemic. The council will commit to reviewing the management of these properties and put their arrangements on a more stable, predictable footing from 2023/24. This will require an investment of £300,000.
- Undertaking a strategic rail feasibility study to establish what it would take to advance the proposals for new rail links to Cowley, Grove/Wantage, and Witney/Carterton, and the installation of double track on single track stretches of the North Cotswold Line. This will be a £250,000 investment.
- Investing in additional resource to accelerate our work on active travel in the county: planning for new schemes and advising on opportunities to integrate active travel more fully in future proposals. This will be a £350,000 investment.
- Replenishing the budget priorities reserve by £5.4m to allow for further investment in 2022/23 to: (1) support projects that will generate future savings for the council budget; (2) make early interventions to improve the lives of children and young people; and (3) accelerate the council’s climate response.