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Oxford,
07
December
2016
|
17:43
Europe/London

Council on solid financial footing after many difficult decisions since 2010

Long-term planning over many years to cope with increased demographic pressures in social care means Oxfordshire County Council will set a budget for 2017-21 on a solid and resilient financial footing after six years of difficult funding decisions.

The council has identified £16m of new financial pressures for the period 2017/18 to 2020/21 and has made proposals on how these pressures can be met.

Take part in the consultation: Access details of the Budget and take part in the discusion here 

Councillor Lawrie Stratford, the council’s Cabinet Member for Finance, said: “We’ve taken difficult decisions over the last six years because we forecast rising demand for services and reducing Government funding.

“Our auditors have confirmed that our four-year budget plan is ‘realistic’ and that we have ‘put in place proper resources to secure value for money’ at a time when other county councils are talking about unfunded gaps in their budget.

“There is no denying that there has been an impact on services and service users since 2010 but the council is on a solid financial footing that allows us to make long-term decisions.

“Good financial planning means we are now able to find new ways to ensure people and communities get the support they need rather than making short-term service cuts.”

Fit for the future

Cllr Stratford added: “We are a completely different organisation to six years ago with 35 per cent fewer staff and many more services delivered with partners. Over coming years we’ll continue to change to become fit for the future. Over time we’ll have a smaller, more flexible workforce that can quickly adapt to meet the needs of residents and communities.

“We are continually looking for new ways to improve services and reduce costs including investment in digital technology to make dealing with the council simpler.

“Our focus is on providing core services for local areas while helping communities help themselves. We’ve kept community libraries open by encouraging volunteering with work under way to develop their role as community hubs. We’ve enabled parishes to take on maintenance work in their areas and we are helping community groups provide local support for children and their families.

“The majority of savings in the past five years have been used to fund the rising costs of adult and children’s social care. Keeping children safe is our top priority and we will continue to target our resources on safeguarding and preventing children coming to harm.”

Strong and thriving economy

Councillor Stratford added: “Another key priority will be in supporting a strong and thriving economy. Our continued “Connecting Oxfordshire” programme of road network improvements is essential to meet future demand and ensure our economy is not held back. We will continue to fight to secure investment in public services and infrastructure that is needed to ensure Oxfordshire thrives.”

Budget proposals in detail

Key pressures include:

  • Children’s social care: £6m: The number of children in care was 592 in Spring 2016 just after the previous budget was set. By 2019/20 this could rise to around 670. A total of £6m will be needed to pay for this between 2017 and 2020 along with an additional £700,000 for the legal costs via the formal legal process that arises from children being taken into care. More children entering care means more legal costs. The county council is one of the few in the country to be rated “good” by Ofsted for children’s social care.

  • Home to school transport £3.45m: The number of children with special educational needs receiving free home to school transport stood at 1,000 in 2013/14 and could rise to around 1,500 in 2019/2020. There are also likely to be rises in contract costs meaning a £3.5m budget pressure.

  • Household Waste Recycling Centres (HWRCs): There is a risk of increased costs of managing HWRCs due to the prices of materials and increased management fees (£500,000). There is also an anticipated cost to delivering new Household Waste Recycling Centres (HWRCs) as part of the long-term strategy agreed in December 2015 (£832,000)

  • School overheads and income  School Related Overheads & Income – following a ruling by the Secretary of State for Education, the Council has lost recharge income (towards Council overheads) from the Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG). There is also a pressure in Education Support Services arising from the loss of income from schools converting to academies. This leads to a pressure of £1.6m

  • Impact of 2017 Rates Revaluation – this is a pressure on the amount of business rates the Council pays on properties it owns – the Government/VOA have revalued properties so that rateable values are realigned with current rental values set by the market periodically reflecting relative changes in the rental value of properties in different sectors and locations. This leads to a pressure of £254,000

Previously set savings that can no longer be achieved include

The council has a good track record of delivering on savings plans. To ensure this continues it has undertaken an honest assessment of the savings that are still to be delivered stemming from its Medium Term Financial Plan as agreed in February. Where they cannot be achieved the council is removing them. These include:

  • Home to school transport for Special Educational Needs pupils: A previously projected saving of £640,000 in the area of home to school transport will not take place.

  • Adult Social Care demography:. The council had always included £5m additional funding each year for changes to demand reflecting the social care needs of local people and increases in numbers of people requiring care. It was thought when the budget was set in February 2016 that not all of this £5m per year would be needed. The council sets a four-year budget and reviews demographic factors every 12 months. This is a complex calculation and results differ year-on-year leading to differing forecasts each year. The council has a long track record of setting aside money for demography and this is something that many councils have not done. This year’s calculations lead to the need for a return to the underlying calculation of £5m per year extra for demography.

  • Adult social care changes that can’t be achieved due to the market (£400,000 and £870,000 = £1.27m) £1.3m of savings previously identified from generating efficiencies in contracted services and from reviewing and renegotiating contracts to provide residential care are now not likely to be achieved because of changing dynamics in the local care market.

  • ICT: £400,000 required for telephony due to a slower pace of reduction in council buildings than envisaged in February 2016 when the council last set its budget.

  • Public Health: A £2.5m saving was earmarked for 2017/18 and related to contract efficiencies on the assumption that the Government’s national ring-fence on public health budgets would be removed. This would have meant that the savings could be used towards meeting the council’s wider requirement for savings. However the ring-fence was retained nationally.

  • Adult Social Care: a £1m saving scheduled for 2018/19 replacing intermediate care beds has been judged difficult to achieve due to pressure on such beds and the potential impact on Delayed Transfers of Care

Key savings include:

Corporate measures  A total of £21.5m of the savings to meet new pressures can be found via a range of changes to corporate financial assumptions set in February 2016.

  1. Adult Social Care receives £5m a year from corporate funding towards demography pressures. The national Social Care Precept funding is able to meet part of this pressure so the council is able to propose reducing the amount of corporate funding put in and make a saving of £9.5m.

  2. The council’s annual contribution to reserves has been reviewed and it has been judged that it will not be necessary to make the same level of annual contributions going forward. This saves £5m.

  3. Strategic Measures – The council has reviewed its policy for its Minimum Revenue Provision (MRP) – this is the principal amount of debt it has to pay each year – resulting in a £6.1m saving.

  4. Taxbase and Collection Fund Surplus – an increase in the number of properties that pay council tax (taxbase) above what was assumed in the council’s Medium Term Financial Plan for 2017/18 and an increase in the assumption of growth in 2018/19 leads to an overall saving of £2.58m up to 2020/21.

  5. Apprenticeship Levy will be charged to Schools – the council included £1.4m of funding in its Medium Term Financial Plan to pay for the national apprenticeship levy before information became available on how the system would work. The council is able to charge schools for their share of the levy, leading to £820,000 not being charged to the council.

  6. Public health will make savings of £1m on contract efficiency in 2018/19 assuming that the national ring-fence is removed. The overall budget for public health in 2017/18 is £31m.

  7. Adult Social Care: Additional savings achieved over and above those set out in the budget: A total of £2.2m extra has been saved over the course of implementing savings in retendering the re-ablement contract; re-designing and combining the Crisis Response Service, Emergency Carers Support Service and Telecare Monitoring Service; and removing funding for peripatetic warden schemes with no impact on service users beyond the original planned saving.

  8. Adult social care Daytime Support: There are two options in a currently ongoing consultation about the future of Day Services – one saves £2.4m the other £3.4m. In terms of budget forward planning the council awaits the outcome of the current consultation and for the purposes of setting a budget will include the lower figure minus some transition costs – an extra £1m of savings has been assumed over and above the budget set in February 2016. This will be updated as the likely outcome becomes clearer.

  9. Adult Social Care Carer’s Personal Budgets: A consultation took place during the Autumn in to the future of Carer’s Personal Budgets following savings set out in the budget set in February 2016. This may save £690,000 more than anticipated in February.

  10. Staffing The council will seek to save £1.5m by further reducing use of agency/interim staff and rigorously challenging spend on contractors and consultants. Any vacant front-line social care roles will continue to be covered by the most cost-effective solution available.

Transformation

It has been possible to reprofile entirely to 2018/19 the £15.3m of savings allocated to service transformation. A total of £10m of this had originally been planned for 2017/18. Use of budget reserves has allowed this to happen and the council will now have more time to find the best way to find new ways of meeting the needs of people and communities, while reducing the cost to the council taxpayer.

Notes to editors

  • When last year’s budget was set the council stated that it was saving £361m from 2010 to 2020. As a result of this year’s changes this figure is now £377m

  • The council has more than 35 per cent fewer staff and 40 per cent fewer managers with further reductions in senior management to come.

  • The council uses more than 90 fewer buildings than it did a decade ago.

  • The council’s Performance Scrutiny Committee will consider the proposals on December 15, before cabinet on December 20 and then all 63 county councillors at the annual budget-setting meeting on February 16.

  • The proposals remain subject to change depending on further funding announcements from Central Government during the winter months - including the annual Local Government Settlement Day during December.

  • A four per cent Council Tax rise is built in to each of the financial years in the proposals – with two per cent of this allowed as part of the adult social care precept and only to be levied by councils who provide adult social care (county, metropolitan and unitary councils).

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