Council proposes future budget from a resilient position
Oxfordshire County Council is planning to set a new budget having made difficult choices in previous years to manage a combination of squeezed budgets and the fact that more people need council services.
Since 2010 the council has managed reductions in finances available at the same time as rises in demand for services - especially in children’s social care and adult social care.
At the same time the council has in recent years been involving communities ever more in services for their locality - ranging from support for older people and those with learning disabilities to library volunteers.
The net result is that the council’s finances are in a resilient position looking ahead to the 2018/19 financial year and planning for years up to 2022.
The council has used its agreed vision for the future – supporting thriving people, a thriving economy and thriving communities - as the basis on which proposals have been made for the 2018/19 financial year and the plan for the three financial years which follow.
Although proposed budget changes are not as extensive as in many previous years since 2010, like any organisation the council still has rising financial pressures that need to be matched by new savings so that a balanced budget can be proposed.
The leader of the council, Councillor Ian Hudspeth said: “Having made difficult decisions in previous years we are now nearer to the end of our programme of savings than the start. However there are still some savings to make.
“By being in a more financially resilient position we are better placed to help support a thriving local economy and deliver value for money.
“We want to provide services that enhance quality of life in our communities and protect and improve the local environment.
“We are a council that spends a great deal of its budget on caring for those in greatest need - striving to give every child a good start in life and enabling older and disabled people to live independently. That continues to be our focus.
“Indeed much of the money the council has saved since 2010 has been reinvested in coping with demand pressures in adults and children’s social care – issues that very much remain and will continue in the future.”
Budget proposals for 2018/19 and beyond.
Significant components of this year’s proposed improvements, financial pressures and proposed savings are outlined below. The council has identified £21m of new financial pressures – including some previously planned savings with which it no longer wants to proceed and some new areas of spending which are proposed.
- The council has decided against making previously planned reductions to services in terms of its Area Stewards in highways and in terms of grass cutting. This creates a £1.97m pressure. (19COM4)
- The council plans to carry out some extra essential safety resurfacing and patching work on cycle lanes and bus laybys as well as rural sign clearance/ line painting. This creates a £940,000 pressure. (19COM5)
- Anticipation of law changes after Grenfell - such as new building regulations, impacts on Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service to ensure we have enough funds for reactive as well as proactive work. The service needs to have sufficient officers to tackle more complex buildings, and to do more proactive work supporting local businesses and taking enforcement action where necessary – a £350,000 pressure. (19FRS1)
- A total of £1.06m is required to transfer staff from the Carillion contract ensuring services from the contract can be taken over by Oxfordshire County Council to provide a service to residents (19COM3)
- The council wants to spend £850,000 to create a new Community Asset and Investment team, with the right skills to develop, implement and manage a property strategy. They will look at ways to rationalise the council’s estate and innovative ways to generate capital and look at investment opportunities. (19COM3)
- A Business Rates retention scheme reset has always been planned by central Government. Government will reset the baseline and at the minute our forecast is that we will lose the benefit of local growth to the tune of £3.053m in 2020/21. (19CM1)
- The forecast for the number of properties paying Council Tax in future years fluctuates constantly. Our current future forecast is for less than was set in our Medium Term Financial Plan/last budget. (it has been two per cent in the two previous financial years). This creates a £3.356m pressure for the council. (19CM3)
- In Children’s Services there’s demography pressure (placements, children with disabilities and home to school transport). There’s also an expected growth in children requiring services based on general population growth – this creates a £3.488m pressure up to 2022. (19PC1)
- In Children’s Services there is a £6.3m pressure which relates to the cost of the children we expect to have in care at the end of March 2018, plus future growth. (19PC2)
- In adult social care savings set out in previous budgets related to reviews of packages are now expected to be challenging to achieve. They related to making sure people’s care packages are the right size for their needs. Some people have too much care, some not enough. Assessments have taken place. A saving of £1.6m was included in the budget from 16/17 and work is continuing to achieve that. But a further £1.5m is not achievable. There’s a further previously set £2.25m saving that is not achievable along the same lines relating adults with learning difficulties. (17SCS16) (17SCS31, 17SCS38, 17SCS41)
- In adult social care the anticipated impact of increase in National Living Wage for home support, extra care housing and care homes leads to a pressure of £3.85m. This is money that goes directly to providers on the frontline. Although councils don’t run these care settings they do help with funding. This is subject to consultation. (19PA2)
- In adult social care, while there will still be money coming to the county council from the national Better Care Fund, this will need to be agreed with NHS partners. It cannot be allocated more generally which is what was originally planned in the council’s Medium Term Financial Plan. We’re awaiting further national guidance. For now this creates a financial pressure of more than £4.8m. (17SCS42)
- The council is in a position to reduce the amount it had set out in its Medium Term Financial Plan TFP for inflation to the tune of £4.5m (19CM4)
- A decision is due to go to cabinet in the New Year about partnering options for ICT delivery. This would save £2.4m (19RES14)
- There have been no reductions in household waste recycling centre sites or opening hours – the council has secured a good value and affordable new contract through retendering. There are some increased charges for non-household waste meaning household waste remains free. The council is also expecting to receive more income through the licence and permit services it runs. It has invested in more energy efficient street lighting which will bring about a reduction in our lighting energy bill – combined saving - £1.53m (19COM12)
- The council is working on a new strategy to safely reduce the number of children coming into care, through earlier and more effective intervention, and a joint-approach with our partners on tackling the root causes of family breakdown – the aim is to save £6.1m by 2022. (19PC5)
- The council is aiming to reduce, where possible, the length of time children stay in care and support families to reunite at the earliest possible stage. This would save £3.092m up to 2022. (19PC6)
- Placement costs – the council wants to drive down the costs of existing contracts and working with landlords to increase provision of supported lodgings for older teenagers - £529,000 saving. (19PC7)
- Changes to adult social care contributions policy will be proposed. These are likely to increase levels of contributions towards the cost of care by people with income above the national minimum income guarantee. This would increase income by £1.5m. This additional income would be reinvested in adult social care services. (19PA6)
- The Council has £7.04m of Adult Social Care precept finance that was agreed in previous budgets to fund adult social care pressures and the impact of the National Living Wage. (19PA8)
The budget process is similar to previous years. The initial budget proposals will be discussed by the council’s Performance Scrutiny Committee on December 14 before going to Cabinet in January. Cabinet will formally recommend a budget to the annual budget-setting meeting of full council, which this year is on February 13.
As always Local Government Settlement Day will be on an as yet unknown day during December. This is when all councils hear about levels of grant funding from central government for the forthcoming year with indicative figures for future years. Officers will at that point be able to assess whether the forecasts on which the budget proposals are founded are correct or whether alterations need to be made to the budget in time for when it is presented to cabinet in January.
The Council’s Medium Term Financial Plan, agreed by council in February 2017, is that there would be a 4.99 Council Tax rise in 2018/19. A total of three per cent of this is “adult social care precept”. This is the level to which Central Government allows councils who provide adult social care services (county councils, unitaries and councils in metropolitan areas such as London, Manchester and Birmingham) to raise Council Tax. The ability to raise this tax was provided by Westminster as acknowledgement of the increasing financial pressures relating to adult social care across the entire nation.
Members of the public and stakeholders will be able to comment on the budget proposals and Council Tax level through the Council’s website at www.oxfordshire.gov.uk/budget and paper copies of the consultation document will also be made available in libraries. The consultation will open at 17:00 on 6 December 2017 and close at 23.59 on 8 January 2018. A summary of responses will be provided to Cabinet to allow them to take the comments into consideration in agreeing their budget proposals.