County council leader backs communities to soften impact of budget cuts
Councillor Ian Hudspeth, the Leader of Oxfordshire County Council, said: “The council will have to make some difficult decisions about local services but in Oxfordshire we have already seen communities willing and able to take over where funding has been reduced.”
“Community libraries are being kept open through the support of a volunteer army and youth services continued across the county when funding was withdrawn several years ago. This is what the prime minister calls the ‘big society’ in action in Oxfordshire.
“The saving we have to make from 2016-2020 could be as much as £50m. However the council regards this figure as a ‘worst case scenario’ which leaves time to find ways to minimise the impact on frontline services, including helping communities take over valued local services.
“There are more than 90 savings options to consider across many areas of the council’s services. Those linked to child protection are not included in any of those options. We have options for savings in the library service but none of our 43 libraries would close. We want to make them our customer service “front door” in Oxfordshire communities.
“The council provides 80 per cent of local government services in Oxfordshire – including highways, social care, fire and rescue, trading standards and many others.
We are consulting much earlier than normal about the financial challenges ahead.
This is the start of an open, transparent process where people can have a genuine say over services and sets out how they can do so.”
Safety net for the vulnerable
Oxfordshire County Council is now in its sixth year of making savings and by 2020 we will have completed a full decade of having to make cuts. That means there is no alternative to reducing some services or stopping them altogether.
Councillor Hudspeth added: “Half of our budget already goes on helping the most vulnerable two per cent of the population. That proportion will rise to three-quarters of our budget by 2020 as demand goes up for care services for our growing and ageing population. Unfortunately we need to save money from other services to fund those vital services, providing a safety net for the vulnerable.
“We have a legal and moral duty to protect the most vulnerable in our society. I want to make sure that people who can’t help themselves are looked after and I’m sure most people feel the same. In particular we are thinking about children at risk of abuse and neglect and adults who need help with washing, dressing, eating and other personal care.
Working with communities
Councillor Hudspeth added: “Where the council has to reduce or withdraw funding we are determined to find ways to keep services running through community support.
“We are helping parish councils take on some council functions such as grass cutting. Communities are already coming forward to find if they can help to keep children’s centres open - just as happened when funding for youth services was reduced some years ago.
“There is the opportunity for us to do things in a different way and seek a positive outcome from a very challenging situation.
Why is council funding under financial pressure?
There are three main contributors to the significant pressure on budgets for all local authorities.
Grants from central Government have diminished every year since 2011 and are forecast to continue to do so up to 2020.
At the same time there are huge pressures on services with the prime example being social care. People are living longer, placing ever rising pressures on adult social care budgets. Meanwhile in children’s social care the number of children in care is also rising at a fast pace. Almost half of the council’s budget goes on helping two per cent of the population – those in receipt of care services.
Councils have not been allowed by Central Government to raise Council Tax to any degree since 2011.
Putting our own house in order
Cllr Ian Hudspeth said: “We have put our own house in order since austerity began in 2010. We have always made back office savings to protect frontline services.
“There are a number of examples of this. In recent years the council has removed more than 100 properties from its portfolio.
“The council is in the lowest quarter of spenders among county councils on back office functions. There has been a 40 per cent reduction in senior management since 2010 and staffing overall is down by a third.
“Support services such as HR and finance have been outsourced and the council is working in partnership with other organisations – such as the joint fire and rescue control centre with Berkshire and Buckinghamshire.
“We want to continue to cut costs to reduce the impact on the frontline. For instance we would like to increase revenue from our properties.”
How will people be consulted?
The council is consulting the public before taking the decisions and delivering a balanced budget on 16 February 2016. Talking Oxfordshire, the council’s budget consultation, will start on 20 October, when all the savings options will be published on the council’s website.
There will be three public events with an independent chair alongside the leader and chief finance officer to provide residents with a chance to find out about the council’s budget position and have their say. Comments will be collated as part of the feedback process.
The events are 7-8.30pm and dates are:
- 27 October – County Hall
- 2 November – Banbury Town Hall
- 5 November – Regal Centre, Wallingford
People need to register in advance to attend the event so the council can manage numbers. To register for an event or take part in the consultation online go to www.oxfordshire.gov.uk/talkingoxfordshire. Hard copies of the budget consultation documents will also be available in every library.
Budget process timeline
Government Spending Review, which sets out how the government will invest in priority public services and deliver further required savings.
25 November 2105
Budget consultation closes.
30 November 2015
Council’s Performance Scrutiny Committee considers all detailed savings options and the feedback from the public and consultation responses.
17 December 2015
Draft Local Government Finance Settlement issued by Department for Communities & Local Government.
Cabinet agrees budget proposals.
26 January 2016
Council agrees budget.
16 February 2016