Budget to make the county greener, fairer and healthier

Budget proposals for 2022/23 to help make the county greener, fairer and healthier along with careful plans to meet current and future financial challenges have been finalised and agreed by Oxfordshire County Council.

The county council’s budget is focused on its nine strategic priorities, with the need to tackle climate change being very prominent throughout the budget.

In delivering her speech to the annual budget-setting meeting of the council, Councillor Liz Leffman, Leader of Oxfordshire County Council, said: “The pressures that we face in all areas of our work are considerable. As a county council, we depend on the Local Government Financial Settlement for a significant portion of our revenue. Government funding has halved over the past decade. 

“In spite of these constraints, we are able to announce a number of investments, which will support the administration’s priorities and improve the lives of Oxfordshire’s residents.

“First of all, our overarching priority of addressing climate change. We are investing £1.33 million in measures that will reduce the council’s carbon footprint and help us achieve our zero carbon 2030 goals.

“How we travel around the county is fundamental to achieving these goals and so we are investing £500,000 to pedestrianise Broad Street in Oxford. As home to many listed buildings and the focal point of one of the world’s top universities, this is a flagship project that illustrates our commitment to reducing car travel.

 “We are investing £8 million in reducing traffic speeds from 30mph to 20mph in built-up areas. This will be of particular benefit to rural communities, and we have had more than 60 expressions of interest in this scheme from around the county. A 20mph speed limit in our smaller villages will make walking and cycling more accessible and safer for everyone.

“We are also putting aside £6m to support our bid to government for electric buses in Oxford city and investing in our capacity to bring forward integrated active travel schemes.

“Secondly, promoting the health and wellbeing of our residents, and in particular support for adult and children’s social care. We have pledged in this budget to support carers and people living with disabilities and have allocated £800,000 to reducing the contribution rate that those in receipt of disability benefits have to pay towards assessed care needs. Too many of the people that we look after, both adults and children, have to be placed in expensive accommodation outside the county because we do not have the facilities here. 

“We have earmarked £6m for two new children’s homes to be built in the county. This investment will make sure that, in future, children in our care are able to be looked after in close proximity to family and friends, and like the Resonance Supported Homes Fund, in which we invested £5m earlier this year to bring adults back into the county, this capital investment will bring with it considerable revenue savings. We are also investing £2m to speed up special educational needs and disability assessments and in arranging placements for children and young people

“These investments have to be paid for. As I have already indicated, the amount of funding we receive from central government in support of our statutory responsibilities does not cover the cost of delivery and we have to raise the balance from council tax. 

“We live in challenging times, and as a new administration we know that we have a lot of work to do to re-shape this council and implement our nine priorities. We have made a good start, and this budget will take us further towards achieving our goals.” 

Challenges in setting the 2022/23 budget

Challenges in setting this year’s budget included uncertainty over government funding for all local authorities, the ongoing impact of COVID-19 that continues to place pressures on the county council’s day-to-day services and affect income streams, alongside a growing and ageing population, which puts more pressure on budgets and services. Particular pressures, with predicted future funding shortfalls, are being felt within social care for both adults and children and in assessments and support for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

Proposals have evolved since first announced in December

The budget proposals first announced in December focus on placing funding where it is most needed and investing in services that will have a positive long-term impact for local communities. These proposals were consulted on from 2 December to 5 January, with 1,392 responses received. Just over half (52 per cent) of respondents supported a proposed council tax increase of 4.99 per cent, of which 3 per cent is specifically for adult social care.

At its 18 January meeting, the council’s Cabinet approved the amended proposals that were made in the light of additional grant money received that applied to 2022/23 only and not subsequent years.

Council tax

The council has agreed a 4.99 per cent council tax rise (3 per cent of which is an adult social care precept and must be spent on adult social care). This is made up of the 3.99 per cent proposed in last year’s budget and a further 1 per cent for adult social care proposed in the government’s October budget to meet further pressures.

The county council’s share of council tax for a Band D property (the average council tax band) in 2021/22 was £1,573.11. A 4.99 per cent increase is equal to a £78.50 per year or £1.51 per week increase in council tax on a Band D property.