County council to invest in schools, transport and streetlighting

Residents of Oxfordshire could see highway improvements, new school buildings and energy-efficient streetlighting thanks to a £1 billion investment over the next ten years as part of the county council’s budget.

However, the county council is also warning that funding pressure on services remains as demand for social care for vulnerable children and adults continues grow and continued financial prudence is required to meet those demands.

Transport schemes across Oxfordshire – including Banbury, Oxford, Eynsham, Benson, Wantage, Didcot, Thame and Bicester - are set for funding approval so the county council can improve journeys for drivers, pedestrians, cyclists and public transport users.

Nearly £20m will be invested to increase the provision of school places for children with special needs in the county, including rebuilding Northfield School in Oxford with more pupil places.

Capital funding is for large one-off projects such as highway repairs or building work to assist the council meet its obligations, such as creating extra school places - as opposed to the normal revenue budget which covers funding for the costs of day-to-day services.

Most of the funding for capital programme is made up of government funding and developer contributions, which cannot be used for any other purpose. The proposed capital programme includes government funding through the Oxfordshire Growth Deal, agreed by all Oxfordshire councils.

Elsewhere in the Capital Programme a £41m street lighting improvement programme continues to be part of the investment plan, with traditional lanterns to be replaced with more energy efficient LED lighting, saving money in the long-run.

The ten-year capital programme is part of the council’s proposed budget for next year, which has been put forward following public consultation. The proposals will be discussed by the council’s cabinet on January 22 before all councillors set the council’s budget on 12 February 2019.

Councillor Ian Hudspeth, the Leader of Oxfordshire County Council, said:

“There are many exciting projects to improve journeys, street lighting and schools, and I look forward to seeing them take shape as part of our proposed £1bn investment programme for Oxfordshire. We have already spent £10m this year on upgrading highways so drivers, pedestrians and cyclists should see a real difference in the coming years.

“Our overall aim is to support and sustain our thriving local economy, which is why we are planning this long-term investment.”

Funding pressures as demand children and adults care grow

Pressure on funding for day-to-day council services continues as the council increases funding for to support of Oxfordshire’s most vulnerable children and adults. There is also uncertainty about future government funding, which is making budget planning harder.

To make sure the growing number of children at risk of abuse and neglect are protected, the children’s social care budget has increased annually. It was £46m in 2011 and is forecast to be £95m in 2022/23 – more than doubling in ten years.

The council’s budget for adult social care could increase by £5m in 2019/20, with further annual increases reaching nearly £6m by 2022/23 to increase support for the growing number of older and disabled people.

Councillor Hudspeth continued:

“Pressure on funding for day-to-day council services remains for all councils, including here in Oxfordshire. We will continue to face difficult financial choices so that we can continue to fund services for the most vulnerable children and adults in our communities. Financial prudence will continue to be required to meet these pressures.

“We shouldn’t be scared of working with the voluntary sector. Some of those organisations are providing really good outcomes and local ideas. We should be enhancing those and supporting the voluntary sector and not just seeing it as an add-on.”

Transforming council services

Meanwhile planned redesign of the council around the changing needs of residents and communities will maintain or improve services, with investment in digital technology enabling us to save money in the process.

We are now reviewing the digital technology needed to make the council run more effectively and efficiently, including improving customer service by making it easier to access services online.

The council has identified savings of £50m from changing the way services are delivered. The council has already started implementing these changes, including improving online ‘self-service’ HR and finance systems used by staff. As part of the partnership with Cherwell District Council, legal services for the two councils are being joined up.

Councillor Hudspeth added:

“Transforming the way services are delivered is vital to enable the council to meet future demand for council services – particularly for vulnerable children and adults – while continuing to invest in the county’s community services and transport infrastructure.

“This is the only way we can be financially sustainable in the long term, particularly as there is so much uncertainty about future government funding for councils.”

Infrastructure projects earmarked for funding in the proposed budget

A total of £548m will be spent on highways and associated infrastructure. Schemes included in the 10-year capital programme – which would also include contributions from the Growth Deal with government agreed by all Oxfordshire councils - include:

  • A £2.5m project along Tramway Road in Banbury including a new bus lane and two-way taxi link past the railway station and in to the town centre.
  • A £36m project to provide dedicated public transport improvements on the A40 to Eynsham – this would include an eastbound bus priority lane from Eynsham to the Duke’s Cut canal bridge near Wolvercote, a 1000 space park and ride site at Eynsham and junction improvements in the Eynsham/Cassington area.
  • A £12m relief road for Watlington – providing an alternative route from the B4009
  • A £10m project to improve the Featherbed Lane and Steventon junctions near Milton Park – providing better access to Milton Park and mitigating congestion at Rowstock roundabout.
  • An £6.5m project for improvements along the Woodstock Road and Banbury Road corridors in Oxford – including a new park and ride on the A44 corridor, expansion of Water Eaton Park and Ride and prioritisation measures for public transport, cycling and pedestrians.
  • An £12m upgrade to the route from the A40 into Carterton and RAF Brize Norton to relieve pressure on the surrounding rural road network.
  • An £8.8m scheme to improve journey times on the Botley Road in Oxford – design solutions are being worked on to improve access to the Park and Ride