Sound budget agreed for protecting vulnerable people and investing in road network
Oxfordshire County Council agreed its budget today (13 February) following a five hour meeting of all 63 county councillors.
Key points include:
Finances are sound compared to other councils, with difficult decisions taken previously
Council tax rise will deliver extra money for adults and children’s social care
Proposal to extend £500,000 contribution for homelessness for an extra year in 2019/20, subject to consultation
10-year programme to improve transport network and release more money for road maintenance
£15,000 for each of the 63 county councillors to spend on local priorities in their area
Councillor Ian Hudspeth, Leader of Oxfordshire County Council, said:
“For the first time, we have created a 10-year capital programme so we can take a longer view of the costs and benefits of road repairs. By taking the long view, we can spend less on filling potholes and more on repairs that will last for years.”
“I do not believe in raising taxes unnecessarily. But I am confident that people understand about the rising cost of social care. In return, we will always ensure the money is spent as efficiently as possible.”
Last year I said the council had made some tough decisions. I don’t want to downplay the impact these decisions have had on council services. But without those difficult decisions we might be facing a very different budget.
By focusing resources where they have greatest impact, I can present an affordable budget to Council. Services for the most vulnerable adults and children across the county will continue.
Our finances are in good shape compared to the state of local government finances generally. Northamptonshire’s Chief Finance Officer was forced to issue a formal notice stop council spending. The public finance body, CIPFA, has warned that other councils may follow.
Our financial position is still extremely tight, and we must work hard to deliver the savings in the medium term financial plan. But I am confident we can and will make those savings.
We took difficult decision to reduce bus subsidies, and reorganise family support services and day services for adults. That meant that we could deliver a balanced four-year budget. Today we benefit from that difficult vote we all took in 2016.
In proposing this budget, we have taken into account comments from Performance Scrutiny Committee and public responses to the consultation.
People are rightly concerned about the impact of savings on services, and on the voluntary sector that does so much in our communities.
I am concerned about this too, and believe this budget will make the best use of scare resources. I would particularly like to highlight the way more than 30 community groups have stepped in to provide services such as ‘stay and play’ for families with small children.
We have provided some financial help, but it is those community groups that have made it happen. That is what we mean by ‘thriving communities’.
Finances in good shaped compared to other councils
From 2010, when we started a savings programme, to the end of this financial year we will have saved £360 million. Most of that money has been be reinvested in services, particularly for vulnerable children and adults.
This has been set against a back drop of the number of adult care packages we provide nearly doubling since 2010. The number of looked after children has increased by 60%, and demand for child protection services continues to grow.
With these sorts of budget pressures, we have to target our resources to provide vital services to those vulnerable adults and children who require them most.
It's a tribute to our staff that we have been able to make the savings while continuing to run services - day in, day out - that help our communities thrive.
Here are just some examples of the services we deliver:
- Assessing the care needs of over 10,000 vulnerable people and rising
- Providing long-term social care for 6,500 adults
- Organising a million hours a year of support a year, as well as assisting thousands of informal carers.
- Assessing almost 4,000 children, including over 1,500 child protection issues
- Supporting, currently, 700 looked after children, and 600 on a child protection plan
- Working to turn around 550 families with real problems so they can thrive
- Registering 20,000 births, deaths, and marriages
- Maintaining almost 3,000 miles of road
- Issuing or renewing over 40,000 concessionary bus passes in year
- Disposing of over 300,000 tonnes of waste
- Responding to over 5,000 fire and rescue incidents
That’s what business as usual looks like at Oxfordshire County Council. But demand for services continues to rise as our population grows and ages.
Demand for social care puts budget under pressure
The government has already recognised the pressure by allowing us to raise a 3% precept to pay for social care as part of Council Tax.
This year the government enabled us to increase Council Tax by an additional 1% in further recognition of the pressure on all social services.
This will mean we will raise the council tax by the maximum allowed without triggering a referendum of 5.99%.
I do not believe in raising taxes unnecessarily. I understand the impact on our residents who may not have had an increase in their wages.
However, I am confident that people understand about the rising cost of social care.
In return, we will always ensure the money is spent as efficiently as possible.
Government funding for councils was announced last week after the budget papers were printed. We have been given an additional £1.4 million, which is welcome news for Oxfordshire.
I feel we need to carefully consider how to best use the additional funding. I propose to increase our contingency fund so that we can respond to the demand for adult social care over the course of the year.
Long-term view of road maintenance
The government has recently provided an additional £916,000 this year for highways repairs. This will be used to do longer term patching work in the spring.
In the meantime, we will continue to carry out urgent repairs to our roads, which we all know have suffered over the winter.
For the first time, we have created a 10-year capital programme so we can take a longer view of the costs and benefits of road repairs.
I am hopeful that we will be able to spend our maintenance budget more effectively. By taking the long view, we can spend less on filling potholes and more on repairs that will last for years.
There will also be more money to spend on roads as a result of government funding. Although that money is for improving the road network, it means money that would have been spent on maintenance on those roads can be used elsewhere.
Last year I said I wanted Oxfordshire to have its own infrastructure fund. I’m pleased to say that yesterday cabinet agreed to sign the Oxfordshire Growth deal, worth £215 million.
This money is reflected in the new capital programme. I am becoming more optimistic that we will be able upgrade our road network in the coming years.
These are large amount of investment, that will fund the infrastructure needed to support the predicted growth in jobs in Oxfordshire and ensure our economy continues to thrive.
Investment in affordable homes and tackling homelessness
In addition to the £155 million for planning and delivering improved infrastructure, we have been given £60 million to deliver more affordable homes across Oxfordshire.
The affordable homes won’t come overnight, but homelessness is becoming a national problem, and Oxfordshire has its share of the problem.
I propose that we continue to fund homelessness support for an additional year in 2019/20 by £500,000. This will be subject to the current consultation on supported housing, and discussions with our City and District colleagues.
In this budget, I want to make sure that communities have a say in how money is spent.
Community say in local spending
To achieve this, I am proposing a Councillor Priority fund. This will be £15,000 a year for each councillor this year and next.
If successful, I would like to see the fund grow to give greater decision making to local members as they understand their divisions the best.
I would encourage members to work with others in their locality. Perhaps they could find match funding to gain greater spending power.
I know that residents are concerned about highways so that may be where most of the funds will be spent.
But the money could also be used for day centres, community bus projects, children’s centres, village hall or homelessness projects.
It will be the members who make the decisions, in consultation with their communities.
I also propose to commit £25,000 on improving partnership working with parishes and town councils, which already do so much in their communities. Together, we can do more.
Finally, there will be £30,000 set aside for World War One commemorations to mark the centenary of the Armistice in 1918. I welcome views on how that money can be most appropriately spent.
This budget is not only compassionate as it is:
- increasing the funding on adult social care by £11.7m
- increasing the funding on Children’s social care by £8.5 m
It is also about localism as we are providing funds that will deliver local solutions by County Councillors who know their divisions best.
This is a budget that delivers for Oxfordshire people and Oxfordshire’s thriving communities.
COUNCILLOR IAN HUDSPETH
Leader of the Council