County council budget agreed, with cash for social care, SEND and highways

A budget for 2024/25 has been set at Oxfordshire County Council following the annual budget setting meeting of all county councillors on Tuesday, 20 February.

All three main political groups on the council presented their own budget proposals. The Liberal Democrat Green Alliance group forms the administration at the council and they first published a draft budget in late November.

This went through several changes as levels of government and other funding became clearer. A balanced budget was proposed by the council’s cabinet in early February, which later included additional money awarded to councils in England from central government.

The Conservative and Labour groups each independently proposed their own amendments to this budget. Each set of budget proposals was debated in the council chamber.

The Liberal Democrats accepted Labour group amendments and a budget was agreed.

What changes were made from the budget proposed by cabinet in January?

The cabinet’s original budget contained real terms increases for both adults and children’s social care. There is a ten per cent real terms increase for children’s services aimed at helping children stay at home where possible and in Oxfordshire when they need residential support and to support improvements in special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

There is also extra money for highways, especially gulley maintenance.

Cabinet’s longstanding commitment to reductions in air pollution and congestion, and to support bus use and active travel are also important parts of the budget.

The Labour amendment that was accepted means that the following is also included in the budget:

  • Increasing early intervention work in early years and primary school settings to respond to SEND needs and proactively support the transition into mainstream education (£500,000 in 2024/25 and £380,000 ongoing funding from 2025/26).
  • Invest in the Family Help Team to reduce the future demand and cost of care. £375,000 in 2024/25 rising to £500,000 in 2025/26
  • Introduce four new Controlled Parking Zones (£200,000 in 24/5)
  • Investment in improved collection of fees, charges and penalties (£210,000)
  • Restore cost of living funding to support local advice centres. (£300,000)
  • £300,000 revenue funding for borrowing supporting £5m additional funding for scheduled highways maintenance added to the capital programme. Meanwhile other capital investments include £6m for additional new children’s homes and £12.65m for additional active travel work

Cllr Dan Levy, Oxfordshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Finance, said: “We have worked hard to balance our budget and find savings so we could provide the investment needed to meet demands and pressures in social care. The budget for both adults and children’s social care will rise in real terms in 2024/25.

“Other areas of focus for our extra spending include extra spending for children with special educational needs and disabilities to support improvements in this area. There are also investments in highway maintenance, especially gully cleaning.

“Our longstanding commitments to reductions in air pollution and congestion, and our support for bus use and active travel are also strong elements of the budget we have set.

“Although central government came up with extra cash for local councils in England, this was very late and not enough to resolve the financial challenges facing the sector as a whole. Councils continue to look towards the remainder of the 2020s with concern.

Other key information about the county council budget for 2024/25 and the vote:

  • The net budget for 2024/25 will be: £611m
  • Council tax will rise by 4.99 per cent.
  • Spending on both adult and children’s social care will rise in real terms to meet rising demands and costs.
  • A total of 37 councillors voted in favour of the budget and 18 abstained,

The political groups at the county council

  • There are 63 county councillors however four were unable to attend.
  • The Liberal Democrat Green Alliance group is made up of 23 county councillors (20 Liberal Democrat and three Green)
  • The Conservative group is made up of 21 county councillors, with one independent councillor aligned with them in the Conservative Independent Alliance.
  •  The Labour & Co-operative Party group is made up of 14 county councillors.
  • There are four independent councillors including one member of the Henley Residents Group.