Have You Say On County Council Budget Proposals

Budget proposals for 2022/23 at Oxfordshire County Council include investments in making the county greener and fairer but also careful plans to meet current and future financial challenges.

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.

The budget proposals focus on placing funding where it is most needed and investing in services that will have a positive long-term impact for local communities.
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 to make Oxfordshire a greener, fairer 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. We have looked for ways to support these priorities in this, our first budget.

“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.

“The government has announced some new grant funding for local government, which is welcome news and has the potential to allow us to invest in key priority areas. This includes £8 million of grant funding for pressures related to COVID-19. However, the detail of what funding we will receive remains unclear. Given the level of remaining uncertainties, including around COVID-19, we will continue to take a cautious and measured approach towards managing our budgets to deliver for residents today and in the future.”

There is a proposal to newly invest £824,000 in 2022/23 into climate action and resilience measures:

  • The council plans to support community activity to cut carbon emissions, develop a renewable energy network and help the transition to electric vehicles (EVs), as well as increasing its capacity as the lead flood authority for Oxfordshire.
  • It plans to develop a countywide nature recovery strategy, develop a tree and woodland strategy and support the development of a new local nature partnership for Oxfordshire.
  • The council also proposes to invest in supporting the retrofitting of residential homes to improve energy efficiency and support the delivery of a zero-carbon route-map for the county.
  • A further element would be to work with partners to expand EV charging capacity across the county and sustain the benefits of Project Local Energy Oxfordshire (LEO). Project LEO is running energy trials in the county to help build a greener (zero carbon), more flexible and fairer electricity system.

A total of £4.4m extra is being invested in adult social care to meet inflationary costs, which are predicted to rise across the care sector in the UK. This will be raised using the additional proposed adult social care precept of 1 per cent.

£800,000 has been identified to reduce the contribution rate that those in receipt of disability benefits have to pay towards assessed care needs. This will allow recipients to keep a little more money each week to spend on well-being and household expenses.

A total of £1.2m extra is being invested in special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) with further investments leading to a total of £2.1m by 2026. An annual 10 – 12 per cent increase in demand for education health and care plans (EHCPs) and the number of approved plans which require an annual review has created a pressure across the service including case workers, educational psychologists and quality and advocacy support. Additional capacity is needed to meet expected standards. There is also an investment in commissioning SEND placements.

COVID-19 has led to more children being in care placements than previously expected and for longer periods of time. There has also been an unusually large increase in the price for a placement and this links to delays in courts and changes in individual circumstances. A total of £1.15m is proposed to meet this pressure rising to £1.45m by 2026. A further £174,000 is earmarked to support those 18 year-olds leaving the care system.

Other proposals:

  • The council’s aims to make cycling, walking and public transport easier and more accessible to everyone and, as a result, reduce car journeys across the county. In turn this will contribute to net-zero targets and help tackle climate change. A total of £130,000 in extra traffic enforcement income is being included for 2022/23 – rising to £580,000 by 2026. The council is expected to be invited to put in a bid to central government in the spring to take on enforcement of moving traffic offences that are currently dealt with by the police. Cameras would be installed to enable enforcement and there would be fines issued to offenders.  It is currently anticipated this new system would be in action in autumn 2022. All income would be spent on highway and transport related services.
  • A home to school transport review will take place to look at how money is spent including: optimising routes to reduce emissions and make savings and running services more efficiently and ensuring eligibility is tightly managed; adjusting the cost of the spare seat scheme to reflect the increasing cost of providing this service; reviewing areas of discretionary spend and adapting policies to bring Oxfordshire more in line with other parts of the country. A £1m saving will be made in 2022/23 against an overall budget of £25.7m. However, at the same time £1.3m is being added to the home to school transport budget linked to population increases – meaning the home to school transport budget will rise overall by £0.3m.

The council is proposing a 4.99% council tax rise (3% of which is an adult social care precept and must be spent on adult social care). The county council’s share of council tax for a Band D property (the average council tax band) in 2021/22 was £1,573.11. A 4.99% is equal to a £78.50 per year or £1.51 per week increase in council tax on a Band D property.

People can have their say on the council’s budget proposals, including its proposed council tax level for 2022/23 and the Cabinet’s priorities between 2 December 2021 and 5 January 2022 by visiting letstalk.oxfordshire.gov.uk/budgetconsultation and completing the online survey.

The feedback from the budget consultation will be considered by the council’s Cabinet on 18 January 2022 and the council will decide and set its budget on 8 February 2022. Feedback will also help develop a new strategic plan for the council.

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