County council budget delivers new investment in social services, schools and roads

An “investment budget” to reduce neglect, ill-health and social isolation has today (February 11) been agreed by Oxfordshire County Council.

The plans include community support for people who have become vulnerable in their community so they can live independently for longer, and more help for struggling families to reduce the chances of children having to go into care.

Funding for children and adult social services will increase by £30 million next year, including an extra £8.1 million from the government. This money is needed to support an increase in adult social care needs for both older and disabled people, as well as the increasing number of child protection cases, which have grown in line with national trends.

The budget proposals also include investment in infrastructure across the county, including an extra £50 million for new and existing schools over ten years, with most of the funding coming from housing developers to meet the need for more pupil places in Oxfordshire.

A total of £30 million will be spent in 2020/21 on repairs to roads, bridges, drainage and footways across Oxfordshire’s towns and villages, with major schemes scheduled in Banbury, Abingdon and Witney.

New funding of £3 million per year will improve local road safety and accessibility, including new pedestrian crossings, improved junctions and better bus stop facilities. These measures are designed to encourage walking and cycling as part of the council’s commitment to improving air quality and active lifestyles.

Councillor Ian Hudspeth, Leader of Oxfordshire County Council, said: This is an investment budget that will help us meet the needs of residents and communities as the county changes in the future. We plan to redesign services with a greater emphasis on preventing problems before they happen.

“We want to do much more than simply manage the growing demands on council services – we want to help all of our Oxfordshire communities to thrive. That means addressing the real causes of that demand for our services so children have the best start in life and older and disabled people can live as independently as possible.”

Responding to climate change is a key feature of the council’s budget, including support for sustainable travel such as improving park and ride services on the A40, and the replacement of over 50,000 streetlights with energy-efficient LEDs. However, all aspects of the budget have to reflect the climate change agenda and how the county council will meet its aim to be carbon neutral by 2030.

The budget includes ‘invest to save’ proposals totalling £4.8 million across council services, many of which would pay back within a year and lead to further savings of £4.8 million by year four. There are also measures totalling £9.1 million in 2020/21 that will help reduce demand for services in the future.

This approach is part of a council-wide programme of service redesign and organisational change, which enables the council to deliver savings in the future while still improving the services that residents want and need.

Councillor Ian Hudspeth, Leader of Oxfordshire County Council, added: “We’ve grasped an opportunity to invest. We are being ambitious about improving outcomes for residents and communities in the future. There remains a lot of uncertainty about funding for local government in the longer term, but I strongly believe this investment budget gives us a solid foundation to manage our finances during the uncertain times ahead.

“We know that the people of Oxfordshire want us to continue to invest in our roads and transport infrastructure – both maintenance and improving how they work for roads users, including for bus journeys, cycling and walking. This is an important part of our overall commitment to reducing carbon and making our contribution to tackling climate change.”

As part of this invest-to-save approach, the county council will provide support for informal care networks in communities that will help older and disabled people live independently. By increasing the ability of communities to provide informal support, the aim is to manage the long-term demand for social care and target resources at those who need help the most.

Prudent budget management, long-term uncertainty

The county council continues to face long-term financial pressures, with government having reduced funding for local authorities since 2010. At the same time, more people have needed support from social services.

To ensure it can continue to invest in services and infrastructure, while meeting the needs of the most vulnerable people in Oxfordshire, the county council has increased Council Tax by 1.99 percent, with a further two percent ‘precept’ – an additional increase allowed by the government on to pay for the growing number of people requiring adult social services. (Raising council tax by two percent or more requires a local referendum.)

The continuation of the Council Tax precept and other government sources from previous years has enabled the council to consider these investments in Investing now puts us in a better position to make further savings in the years ahead, as we expect to have to do.

Budget briefing

This is a summary of the most significant elements of the budget – investments in services and savings. Councillors have approved two sets of budget proposals: the revenue budget that pays for day-to-day services, including the ‘invest-to-save’ measures; and the capital programme that provides long-term investment in transport, schools, broadband and other infrastructure. Full details of the revenue and capital budget proposals below in Further Information.

Family safeguarding model

Initial investment of £2.3 million in a new approach to supporting families in difficulties, including parenting, substance abuse, domestic violence and mental health. The new model was developed in Hertfordshire and has been independently assessed as a successful way to improve the chances of keeping families together safely. Net savings are projected at £1.8 million by year four.

Foster families

In line with national trends, the numbers of young people in care have risen in recent years requiring an increase in fostering and residential placements. The county council proposes to invest £1 million in internal fostering services to increase the number of local foster carers, including increasing support and payments to foster families.

Community networks

An investment of £1.8 million in community networks, capacity, winter projects and alternatives to formal care, funded from the improved Better Care Fund to enable people to be better able to support themselves and help communities to help the most vulnerable locally. Developing these informal care networks is critical to managing future demand for adult services.

Learning disabilities, mental health, and autism

The council will expand support for the growing number of for people with learning disabilities, mental health issues and autism, with an additional £7.4 million a year. There will be a further one-year investment of £2.8 million to transform and improve current housing support for people with mental health issues and/or autism. Proposals also include the withdrawal of a previously agreed saving proposal of £0.3 million for social workers to support people with mental health issues and/or autism.

The council is developing a programme to address future needs of people with learning disabilities, mental health issues and autism, including a transitions service to help young people to live independent lives as adults.

Weight management

The council will increase support for people to adopt healthier lifestyles and reduce risk of long-term health conditions. The council currently funds 200 places for community weight loss programmes such as Slimming World, Weight Watchers and Men vs Fat but the funded places are at full capacity. Funding will be increased by £0.2 million in 2020/21 (and the same in 2021/22) to help tackle obesity by kickstarting individuals’ weight loss journey.

Children with special educational needs or disabilities

Increased funding of £1.2 million has been agreed to support children with special educational needs or disabilities by increasing the number of case workers to meet the growing number of requests for education, care and health plans (EHCPs) and expanding the educational psychologist service. An additional £3.8 million is being added to the budget for home to school transport. Further investment is planned for the following year, including a new service that will help schools to access support for individual children and support learners with identified needs in mainstream schools.

School catering

The county council currently provides meals to around 60 schools – the vast majority of which are primary schools. A total of £0.2 million will be spent on developing a better and more commercial business model, which encourages healthy eating in schools.

School investment

Housing growth in Oxfordshire means that developers will be providing money, through part of the planning process known as Section 106 agreements, which enables the council to provide the extra pupil places needed locally. An additional £50 million has been added to the capital programme over ten years.

Highway maintenance programme

The county council will spend £30 million in 2020/21 from its capital budget on repairs to roads, bridges, signs and lines, drainage and footways. Major schemes on the programme for the coming financial year include: Oxford Road in Banbury; Northcourt Road in Abingdon; Burwell Drive and West End, both in Witney.

Reactive maintenance to ensure that Oxfordshire’s roads operate safely continues as normal – including things like pothole repairs, drain clearance, and streetlight repairs. This year the council will also be investing £640,000 in sign cleaning and vegetation clearing to ensure signs are properly visible. In future years £320,000 a year will be put in this area.

Climate change - meeting our ambitious target

The council will invest in energy and carbon reduction in the coming years. Having already reduced its own carbon emissions by 50 per cent since 2008, it is now gearing up its efforts to become carbon neutral by 2030. The hard work that the county has already done with district councils means that Oxfordshire is the best county for recycling in the country.

The budget includes a £0.7 million investment in “pump-priming” so that the council can implement new ways of working that will bring cash and carbon savings. This work will include renewable energy generation, improved energy efficiency of our buildings and enabling “cleaner” staff travel.

The council’s new electric vehicle purchasing policy will switch its car and van fleet to electric wherever possible. Over the next five years it will be spending £40 million replacing 56,000 bulbs with new LED technology which will not only provide excellent quality lighting but also drastically cut the amount paid for electricity and greatly reduce its carbon footprint.

Sustainable transport investment

As well as investing in directly reducing its own carbon footprint, the council is also making major investments that will help more Oxfordshire residents to travel more sustainably. Its policy now means that all of transport improvement schemes allow for cycling facilities wherever possible – this supports the work being done to tackle congestion on the roads and encourage more and more people to use sustainable transport.

The council plans to spend £32 million on the A40 bus lane and park and ride and a £6.5 million investment in the Botley Road which will result in infrastructure that will make sustainable transport more attractive to more people.

Major capital projects currently being delivered or where work will begin soon (funded through Section 106, Local Growth Fund and Growth Deal) include:

  • £4 million on the Science Vale Cycle Network to improve pedestrian and cycle access
  • £9.5 million on the Botley Road corridor improvements including walking, cycling and buses
  • £0.8 million on the A361 safety improvements with a new shared path
  • £4 million on riverside routes in Oxford improving non-road cycle routes
  • £1.1 million on connections to Oxford Station includes pedestrian and cycle improvements
  • £32 million A40 Science Transit 2 includes an improved path for cyclists
  • £5.9 million A40 Oxford North project including improvements for cyclists

The council will also invest £0.5m in improving sustainable travel plans to ensure bus, cycling and walking routes are integral to new housing and business property developments.

Councillor Priority Fund

The county council will continue to invest in communities by continuing the Councillor Priority Fund, which was established two years ago. In that time, councillors have used this money to support a range of community initiatives, many of which have secured match funding to increase the local investment. During 2018/19, there were over 170 different community and charity groups that received funding involving over 60 different towns and parish organisations.