County council reveals first draft of budget proposals for 2024/25 as local government faces challenges

County council reveals first draft of budget proposals for 2024/25 as local government faces challenges

Proposals to save more than £9.8 million in 2024/25 have been set out by Oxfordshire County Council as it seeks to set a balanced budget in the face of continued inflationary pressures and growing demands.

All local authorities are having to deal with the continued impact of slower than forecast falls in inflation in the UK and the consequent continued high levels of costs and prices for energy, fuel, materials and staff costs.

The council also continues to experience demand-led pressures and the effects of 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 last Census confirms Oxfordshire has a growing and ageing population, which will continue to increase demand on services.

All of these pressures combined amount to approximately £29.8m. The council proposes to add to contingency funding for risks including inflation by £6.2m meaning an overall pressure of £36m.

After taking account of proposed savings, funding changes and other factors that help meet pressures, the county council currently has a £9.1 million funding gap.

It will work to close this and present a draft balanced budget in the new year after the government has confirmed its financial settlement for local government before Christmas and further financial information has been received from the city and district councils.

Councillor Dan Levy, Oxfordshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Finance, said: “Households continue to face huge financial challenges this autumn and we are still in a cost of living emergency. Many of the same factors that are causing those issues are affecting local government, including Oxfordshire County Council, and organisations and businesses up and down the land.

“At the county council, we are on the frontline of supporting the most vulnerable people in our communities. As always, we are committed to helping them and their families and they will always be prioritised when we make decisions on budget.  

“This is reflected in our budget, which contains large investments to meet new pressures in many areas, primarily in adult and children’s social care and services for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). To invest in frontline services, we have needed to propose savings in other areas to balance this.

“We seek to manage the council’s finances responsibly and we carefully plan ahead to meet current and future financial challenges. Our budget proposals for 2024/25 include more than £9.8 million of savings. Beyond the budget for 2024/25, it is fair to say that the whole of local government is looking at the second half of the 2020s with great concern as funding issues and challenges look certain to continue.

“Our track record of responsible financial management means that Oxfordshire County Council is in a more resilient and robust position than some other authorities. However, the overall position is still challenging and means we will need to make tough choices.”

New for this year, residents can take part in the budget consultation (for 2024/25) until 10 January using an online budget simulator, which will be hosted on the council’s digital consultation and engagement platform Let’s talk Oxfordshire. The simulator allows residents to try to balance the council’s budget, weighing up tough choices and impacts. People will also be able to comment on the council’s proposed budget with feedback captured using an online form or in writing by Freepost. 

The council is also running three online Oxfordshire Conversations, which offer an opportunity for cabinet representatives to connect with residents on their priorities for local services and explore ideas for how we can make savings to balance our budget. Residents are asked to book.

The events are open to all and will run on the following dates:

  • Monday 4 December 1pm to 230pm
  •  Wednesday 6 December 7pm to 8:30pm
  • Monday 11 December 4:30pm to 6pm.

The council’s budget proposals will be considered by the Performance and Corporate Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee on 8 December. Later in December, the government will announce council funding levels as part of its local government finance settlement.

This, alongside confirmation of wider financial resources available and the outcome of the public consultation and engagement, will lead to an updated draft of the budget being presented to the council’s cabinet on 30 January.

Currently, the council’s medium-term financial strategy – agreed in February 2023 – is based on a 4.99 per cent council tax rise in 2024/25, with two per cent of this being ringfenced for adult social care. This rise would be less than the current rate of inflation. No final decision on council tax or any element of the budget will be taken until 20 February 2024 when all 63 county councillors meet at the annual budget setting meeting of the county council.