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Oxford,
14
February
2017
|
17:51
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 seven years of difficult funding decisions.

Oxfordshire County Councillors from across the whole county will meet for their annual budget setting meeting on Tuesday, February 14 at 10am.

Councillor Ian Hudspeth, the leader of the council, said: “We’ve taken difficult decisions over the last seven 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.

“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. We do this year have at least some additional money while still being in a challenging financial position along with the rest of local government.”

Fit for the future

Cllr Hudspeth said: “We are a completely different organisation to seven 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.

“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. As people will know, big changes in structure to local government in Oxfordshire are being discussed.

“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.

Adult Social Care

There are two new funding streams across England for adult social care:

  • the adult social care ring-fenced element of the Council Tax rise which first came into effect in 2016/17

  • a new one-off adult social care grant of £2.3m for 2017/18 (which is Oxfordshire’s share of a national grant funding stream)

The total benefit of these two funding streams for Oxfordshire for the period 2017-20 is £20.2m with £7m of this being received earlier than that had already been planned for and known from previous budget processes.

This money is being spent as follows:

  • The council had in previous years set aside money in its financial plan to pay for increases in demographic demands forecast on social care for future years. A total of £6.586m of the new adult social care funding will be spent on meeting demographic pressures in this area. This means money previously set aside to cope with demographic demands can be directed to meeting the demographic pressures in children’s social care (as described below).

  • The council will be able to directly meet £3.353m of new funding pressures that have been identified in adult social care from these funding streams.

  • A balance of £10.3m from 2017-2020 will be available to fund expenditure related to pressures including increases in the National Living Wage with the county council obliged to assist private and voluntary care sector organisations with their costs in this area. This was one area the Government had strongly in mind when setting a ring-fence on adult social care for part of the council tax rise.

Children’s social care and other new areas of spending

A total of £5.3m can now be spent on dealing with demand increases in children’s social care. Money previously held in the financial plan for demography can now be allocated to children’s social care as a consequence of the council receiving specific funding to address these pressures in adult social care as described above.

Included in the £5.3m is £0.600m that was added to the children’s social care budget as a result of the county council having £1.957m more money than anticipated as a result of better than expected business rate collections conducted by Oxfordshire’s five district councils, council tax collection fund surpluses and a higher than expected grant. This information only became available earlier in February.

A total of £0.776m of the £1.957m of new funding will be added to balances in 2017/18 so that the Cabinet can consider how this money will then be spent in the 2018/19 financial year. The council is still in the throes of saving £377m from 2010 to 2020.

The remainder of this £1.957m is proposed to be spent as follows:

  • A total of £0.170m to be spent on additional grass-cutting work on highway verges. This is an area of spend that has been reduced in recent years.

  • A total of £0.250m one-off funding initially for a pilot Communities Fund following changes/reductions for funding for services. This will be divided between individual localities in Oxfordshire with local councillors deciding how the money will be spent.

  • An £0.011m increase on the Council’s Flood Defence Levy.

  • A total of £150,000 is to be spent on continuing to provide locally based Area Stewards, overseeing local highway work. In previous budgets these posts had been set to be removed.

Budget proposals and Council Tax

In December the Government announced changes to how much it will permit councils who deliver adult social care to raise in Council Tax.

The result of this is that there is no extra permanent money overall but there is temporary finance (as a result of receiving the money earlier than planned) released which can be spent on one off measures.

Details relating to council taxi rises are outlined in the table below

 

2017/18

2018/19

2019/20

Total 2017-20

Pre-December Government guidance

In the current Financial Plan

Up to 4 per cent with 2 per cent of this to be spent on adult social care

Up to 4 per cent with 2 per cent of this to be spent on adult social care

Up to 4 per cent with 2 per cent of this to be spent on adult social care

Up to 12 per cent (6 per cent to be spent on adult social care)

Post-December Government guidance

In the proposed budget and financial plan

Up to 5 per cent with

3 per cent of this to be spent on adult social care

Up to 5 per cent with

3 per cent of this to be spent on adult social care

Up to 2 per cent with no ringfence on how this should be spent

Up to 12 per cent (6 per cent to be spent on adult social care)

In spending the temporary finance raised the council is proposing to:

  • Spend £0.875m more than originally intended in making the changes to daytime support services approved by cabinet in January. Of this money £0.650m is temporary spend on transitional/grant funding for the voluntary sector while £0.225m is permanent funding.

  • Allocate £1.01m toward growing , developing and building resilience in the external care workforce helping the private and voluntary sector with issues such as recruiting, retaining, training, and supporting this workforce. The high cost of living means that care organisations face issues in these areas. This funding would increase the numbers and the skill base of local care workers and help providers to recruit and retain for the longer term.

  • Spend £1.485m on transforming delivery in adult social care. The council plans to increase staff capacity (social workers, occupational therapists, and care managers) to ensure the right size for home care packages. The council would train and develop staff across the council to improve their commercial negotiation skills. It proposes to invest in improvements to systems to enable it to better track and monitor the care demands in order to understand and use available capacity. The council would also like to increase its ability to design and evaluate adult social care services with significant input from people in Oxfordshire including service users.

Children’s social care a top priority

Councillor Hudspeth added: “There’s always the temptation to immediately allocate all of any new money, especially in an election year. We are proposing that more than half of it should be spent in 2017/18 but we also need to plan for challenges in future years.

“Children’s social care is an area that we have said year-on-year is one of our top priorities as a council. We have always protected this area from the wider financial savings affecting local government and new money will help with the continued rising demand on the service that is being experienced both here in Oxfordshire and elsewhere in England .

“This time next year though, Oxfordshire County Council will be setting its budget for 2018/19. As is the way of things there will be new financial pressures for local government to contend with by then along with various other changes in the landscape.

“By setting money aside now to deal with those inevitable future changes we are planning carefully and sensibly in precisely the way that led to our auditors last year describing our methods of financial planning as ‘realistic’.

“Setting budgets via a four-year medium term financial plan and looking beyond the year immediately ahead is the responsible and prudent way for a council to manage its finances.”

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.

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