County council asks for views on its 2023/24 budget proposals

Proposals to save over £35 million in 2023/24 have been set out by Oxfordshire County Council as it seeks to set a balanced budget in the face of a cost of living emergency and growing demands.

All local authorities are having to deal with large increases in inflation that are driving up costs and prices  for energy, fuel, materials and staff costs. Oxfordshire County Council estimates a significant funding shortfall of £44 million in 2023/24 – about 9 per cent of its budget.

A total of £27 million of this shortfall relates to inflationary costs. The council is also estimating around £17m of other demand-led pressures, which include the growing nationwide costs of supporting children and young people; the rising cost of social care and care placements for both children and adults; and a national shortage of social care workers leading to a reliance on agency staff and higher costs.

The recent Census confirms Oxfordshire has a growing and ageing population, which will continue to increase demand on services.

In addition, the financial impact of implementing the government’s adult social care reforms is unclear and could add to these pressures. Finally, on top of this, the long-term financial impact of supporting children with special educational needs and disabilities, particularly those with high needs, remains uncertain. The support is managed by the council but is funded separately through the government’s dedicated schools grant, which has been consistently less than the sum required in Oxfordshire. The total shortfall of funds spent over the last five years, which has not been met by government, is estimated to rise to £65m by March 2024.

Councillor Calum Miller, Oxfordshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Finance, said: “We know that households across our county are facing huge financial challenges this autumn. Rising prices make this a cost of living emergency. The county council is also facing its most difficult budget pressures for many years.

“The county council is on the frontline of supporting the most vulnerable people in our communities. We are committed to helping them and their families. Alongside our existing support, we recently provided a further £2 million to help the most vulnerable this winter. We know it is not enough but, as the cost of providing services rises and government funding fails to keep pace with inflation, we face tough choices.

“The county council’s Leader, Cllr Liz Leffman, wrote to Jeremy Hunt, Chancellor of the Exchequer, to urge him not to levy further spending cuts on local government in his autumn statement but instead help us to support essential local services at a time when our residents need them the most.

“We won’t know the full detail of yesterday’s autumn statement until we get the local government settlement expected in December. But what we can see at this stage is that government has not increased funding for 2023/24 to match inflation but instead asked local authorities to raise money from residents through a further increase in council tax. 

“We will manage the council’s finances responsibly and we are planning ahead to meet current and future financial challenges. Our budget proposals for 2023/24 include £35 million of savings. This still leaves us with a £9m gap based on the need to plug the funding shortfall of £44m in total.

“None of these choices are easy. We have been listening to you about the big issues that matter most to you and your communities through our recent Oxfordshire Conversation events, as well as gathering your views on the council’s strategic priorities and budget challenges in a residents’ survey that took place over the summer. We have been guided by what you have told us about your priorities, such as you want to see the health and wellbeing of residents at the top of our list and that you want to see action on the climate emergency.

“We now want to hear your views on our budget proposals, which are based on what we know now, as part of our consultation. Together, all this feedback will help inform our decisions during the budget process.”

Previously, the maximum amount the government would allow the county council to increase council tax in 2023/24 was 2.99 per cent. This included a one per cent additional charge (called a precept) for adult social care services. For 2023/24, the council has based its budget proposals on this, which is behind inflation of 10 per cent and still leaves a £9 million funding gap.

However, the chancellor’s autumn statement on 17 November acknowledged that councils may need to raise council tax by up to 4.99 per cent including a two per cent adult social care precept to meet rising costs and help support essential service delivery. The county council will decide on this in the coming weeks as part of the budget setting process.

Residents can have their say on the council’s budget proposals between 18 November and 19 December by visiting oxfordshire.gov.uk/budgetconsultation and completing the online survey. The proposals will be considered by the Performance and Corporate Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee on 9 December. The committee’s views and the public consultation results will be reported to the council’s cabinet on 24 January. The budget, including the council tax level, will be decided at a meeting with all county councillors on 14 February 2023.

Residents who need the consultation and accompanying information in an alternative format, such as Easy Read, large text, audio, Braille or a community language, can get in touch by email at budget@oxfordshire.gov.uk or phone 01865 792422.