Oxfordshire County Council (OCC) set their 2019/2020 budget and planned up to 2023 on Tuesday this week with a £1bn boost over the next decade for the county’s highways, school buildings and other infrastructure. Young people will benefit from improved community-run youth services, while children’s social care budgets will double by 2023.
Cllr Ian Hudspeth, the leader of the council, said: “We have taken difficult decisions in the past as we have to produce a balanced budget every year. Taking those tough decisions has meant we are in a more solid financial position. However budgets are still tight, and the council will need to continue to change so we can improve services and free up resources needed to meet the rising demand for services – particularly for vulnerable children and adults.”
Youth groups will be invited to bid in to a £1m fund over two years, and are encouraged to find match funding from their local communities. Feedback from residents’ points to strong support for improving community-run youth services, and this money would help existing projects expand and new ones get off the ground.
Highway improvements, new school buildings and energy-efficient streetlighting will be possible thanks to a £1 billion investment over the next ten years. The statement however says “approval for funding for transport schemes across Oxfordshire – including Banbury, Oxford, Eynsham, Benson, Wantage, Didcot, Thame and Bicester” – Henley-on-Thames is not listed!
There will be more money for adult and children’s social services. The council is in the process of doubling the children’s social care budget from its £46m level in 2011 up to £95m by 2023 as the number of children entering care in Oxfordshire and across England continues to rise. The council’s budget for adult social care could increase by £5m in 2019/20, with further annual increases reaching nearly £6m by 2022/23 to increase support for the growing number of older and disabled people.
Investment will be made in digital technology to save money, maintain and improve services to make it easier to access services online. The council is budgeting for savings of £50m from changing the way services are delivered. The council has already started implementing these changes, including improving online ‘self-service’ HR and finance systems used by staff. As part of the partnership with Cherwell District Council, legal services for the two councils are joining up.
The Council’s plan for Council Tax remains unaltered since the council last set its budget in February 2018. Oxfordshire CC’s part of the Council Tax will raise by 2.99 per cent in 2019/20 and 1.99 per cent in the years thereafter.