Frontline services and vulnerable people benefit as council sets greener, fairer and healthier budget

Frontline services, supporting vulnerable people and tackling climate change are at the core of the Oxfordshire County Council budget set for 2023/4 in line with its commitment to making Oxfordshire a greener, fairer and healthier county.

The budget has been set in the face of significant pressures on services that stem from escalations in inflation and growing demands – especially in social care for adults and children.

However extra funds will be targeted to promote access to public transport, improve roads, help the lowest income households with cost of living pressures, help for people with special educational needs and disabilities and for community hubs to support families and young people.

The annual budget setting meeting of all 63 county councillors debated  the budget at their meeting today (14 February).

Councillor Liz Leffman, the leader of the county council, said in her statement to the council: “This is a positive budget for Oxfordshire that supports the priorities of the council and reflects the feedback we have heard from our residents.

“We know that households across Oxfordshire face particular financial challenges this year. For many this makes the services we provide even more important

“In the face of political and economic uncertainty we have had to make some difficult choices. We are committing funds to protect frontline services and ensure that the most vulnerable members of our communities continue to receive essential support.”

She added that the budget would “put our finances on a strong and stable footing in the face of future challenges”.

Cllr Leffman said that the inflation that has presented so many difficulties to households in the UK had also presented real challenges to the council in setting a budget – but she said that the council’s cabinet remains committed to its vision for a greener, fairer and healthier county.

She said: “Our priorities are to tackle inequality and support the most vulnerable residents in Oxfordshire by investing in frontline services to take action to address climate change and to put our finances on a stable footing for the challenges ahead.

“We have listened carefully to the feedback from our extensive public engagement and consultation on the budget and the views of Oxfordshire residents are reflected in our proposals.”

Council Tax

The council has agreed a 4.99 per cent Council Tax rise. In the Autumn the government announced that it would allow councils to raise Council Tax by this amount and recommended that they do so – with two per cent ringfenced for adult social care spending.

Cllr Leffman said: “We have thought very hard about the Council Tax increase for 2023/4. In our consultation on the budget, opinion was split on a 4.99 per cent increase to protect adult social care and other services.

“At the same time respondents were very clear that they did not want to see reduced spending on frontline services. We appreciate that any increase at this tough time for households will be hard. At the same time, we know that not funding vital services would have a huge negative impact on some of our most vulnerable residents.

“We therefore proposed to accept the government’s recommendation while investing to make sure we protect the lowest income households from the impact of this increase. We have set aside £2.3m to provide council tax relief and officers are working closely with districts and the city to design this approach.”

Key investments in the areas residents care about

Investments approved in the budget reflect the extensive programme of consultation and engagement that took place in 2022.

  • There will be a £13.1m investment for children’s social care including a specific investment of £500,000 to tackle waiting times for Education, Health and Care Plan (ECHP) assessments for pupils with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) and an additional one-off investment of £500,000 to kick-start the development of community hubs.
  • There will be a £14m investment for adult’s social care including £4.4m to deal with increases in demand and complexity and the consequences of paused national reforms.
  • Concerns about the availability of public transport options and the maintenance of highways has led to the council investing £2.2m into supporting community public transport and £500,000 to continue the popular combined ticket offer for park and ride that means it costs only £5 for a family of five to park and get a return bus ticket to the city centre.
  • There is a further £1m investment in pavements, cycleways and highways.
  • An investment of £500,000 is being made to support the expansion of the school streets scheme which has proved very popular in its four trial sites and made it safer and easier for children and parents to walk and cycle to school.
  • A further £300,000 is to be invested to help parents and pupils with safe, sustainable, independent travel options for children and young people, encouraging them to walk and cycle to school.

In the council’s capital programme, there is £5.2m to support new children’s homes, £700,000 for statutory health and safety work at Redbridge Waste Recycling Centre and £8m for the expansion of special school capacity.

A further £3m is to be allocated to tackle climate change with a focus on a tree-planting strategy working with city, district and parish councils, with tree cover providing future resilience in the face of rising temperatures.

Meanwhile a £600,000 investment will be made to address severe flooding issues, improving drainage and building community resilience to flooding. There is £1.5m for Thames Towpath bank repairs and reconstruction in Oxford and £5m towards the ‘Vision Zero’ road safety and accessibility programme.