Boost for youth services, children’s social care and roads as the county council sets budget

Young people will benefit from improved community-run youth services, while children’s social care budgets will have doubled by 2023, as part of Oxfordshire County Council’s new budget, agreed today (Tuesday).

There’s a £1bn boost over the next decade for the county’s highways, school buildings and other infrastructure.

The council has set its budget for 2019/20 and planned up to 2023 against a well-documented background of pressure from the rising cost of supporting vulnerable adults and children at risk of abuse and neglect across England.

In his speech to today’s annual budget setting meeting of all Oxfordshire county councillors, Cllr Ian Hudspeth, the leader of the council, said: “We have taken difficult decisions in the past as we have to produce a balanced budget every year. Taking those tough decisions has meant we are in a more solid financial position.

“However budgets are still tight, and the council will need to continue to change so we can improve services and free up resources needed to meet the rising demand for services – particularly for vulnerable children and adults.”

Strong support for youth services

Youth groups will be invited to bid in to a £1m fund over two years, and are encouraged to find match funding from their local communities. Feedback from residents’ points to strong support for improving community-run youth services, and this money would help existing projects expand and new ones get off the ground.

Councillor Hudspeth continued: “It would be good to offer teenagers the chance to have their own space to pursue their own interests in a safe environment. Communities and our own county councillors tell us that community-run youth services are really valued.

“We want to try to reach out to all areas of the county, recognising good existing youth activities and offering additional support and offering help where there are gaps in services. I am sure local people with energy and ideas will come forward.”

Voluntary sector welcome for extra youth spending

Jodie Lloyd-Jones, chief executive of Oxfordshire Youth, said: “Community-run youth services make a huge contribution to society and compliment statutory services, but more importantly they provide a safe space, a trusting relationship and offer young people a sense of belonging.

“As young people grow up in a society that has moved online, a physical space for young people to go and build relationships, and feel connected to the wider community is more important than ever before.

“The youth clubs and organisations that are currently operating across the county provide an essential service for children and young people. As a charity at the heart of these organisations, we see the impact that is made on a daily basis.

“It is really positive that Oxfordshire County Council has found a way to support these services, the more recognition we have of the value of voluntary sector youth services, the more investment we will be able to bring to the county.”

The funds would be administered by a cross-party working group of Oxfordshire’s county councillors, chaired by Councillor Mark Gray.

More money adult and children’s social services

  • The council is in the process of doubling the children’s social care budget from its £46m level in 2011 up to £95m by 2023 as the number of children entering care in Oxfordshire and across England continues to rise.
  • The council’s budget for adult social care could increase by £5m in 2019/20, with further annual increases reaching nearly £6m by 2022/23 to increase support for the growing number of older and disabled people.

Major infrastructure improvements in the pipeline

Highway improvements, new school buildings and energy-efficient streetlighting will be possible thanks to a £1 billion investment over the next ten years. Transport schemes across Oxfordshire – including Banbury, Oxford, Eynsham, Benson, Wantage, Didcot, Thame and Bicester - are set for funding approval so the county council can improve journeys for drivers, pedestrians, cyclists and public transport users.

Nearly £20m will be invested to increase the provision of school places for children with special needs in the county, including rebuilding Northfield School in Oxford. Capital funding is for large one-off projects such as highway repairs or building work to assist the council meet its obligations, such as creating extra school places - as opposed to the normal revenue budget which covers funding for the costs of day-to-day services.

Most of the funding for capital programme is made up of government funding and developer contributions, which cannot be used for any other purpose. The proposed capital programme includes government funding through the Oxfordshire Growth Deal, agreed by all Oxfordshire councils.

Councillor Hudspeth said: “The county council is working to ensure Oxfordshire’s economy continues to thrive in the future. Part of that is helping young people to be able to afford homes here so they can live and work in their home county rather than have to move elsewhere.”

Oxfordshire has received government funding of £215m to support the creation of new homes, including £60m specifically for affordable housing. In addition, the county council recently bid for £218m to deliver new homes and infrastructure in and around Didcot.

Transforming council services

Planned redesign of the council around the changing needs of residents and communities will maintain or improve services, with investment in digital technology enabling us to save money in the process.

We are now reviewing the digital technology needed to make the council run more effectively and efficiently, including improving customer service by making it easier to access services online.

The council is budgeting for savings of £50m from changing the way services are delivered. The council has already started implementing these changes, including improving online ‘self-service’ HR and finance systems used by staff. As part of the partnership with Cherwell District Council, legal services for the two councils are joining up.

Council Tax

The council’s plan – which remains unaltered since the council last set its budget in February 2018 – is to raise Council Tax by 2.99 per cent in 2019/20 and 1.99 per cent in the years thereafter.