County councillors to consider using Oxfordshire’s ‘growth dividend’ for major investment in roads and schools

The spending squeeze on roads and property repairs could be eased if Oxfordshire County Council’s cabinet agrees proposals to borrow up to £120m to invest in infrastructure improvements.

A report to a cabinet meeting on September 18 acknowledges that under-investment has resulted in significant reduction in quality of major and minor roads, as well as pavements, with an increase in car damage and personal injury claims.

However the report also says that they had little choice but to reduce maintenance budgets when faced with fast-rising demand for adult and children’s social care at a time when central government funding was being reduced.

Now they believe there is an opportunity to improve the Oxfordshire’s roads, pavements, bridges and county council maintained buildings, especially schools. The borrowing would be funded from a £6m-a-year increase in council tax income as the result of expected growth in homes in Oxfordshire.

Residents have said that they want to see improvements to the roads, and the investment proposal means the whole county would be benefit from a ‘growth dividend’.

The Cabinet will consider the in principle case to borrow up to £120m when it meets next week, with detailed business cases produced for each proposed project funded from the investment pot. It initially discussed the proposals in July.

Around £80m would be spent on highway improvements, with the remainder used to invest in other county council-owned assets especially schools.

The cabinet report references research that shows that the condition of the highway network influences where small and medium size businesses choose to locate and points out that an improved road condition would make Oxfordshire more competitive and increase economic growth.

The report also refers to research by the independent Transport Research Laboratory that shows that maintaining roads generates £5 within the local economy for every £1 invested.

Councillor Yvonne Constance, the council’s cabinet member for Environment said: “Oxfordshire’s expected growth in homes and council tax income gives us the scope to borrow money to invest that will over the long term save us money.

This growth dividend would mean serious money for serious work. Some of Oxfordshire’s roads have fewer than five years of life left. We are where we because councils have had difficulties due to the well documented combination of rising demand for social care and falling funding levels overall over many years. This is a problem for local government to deal with across the UK

“We have already taken action in response to road conditions and having already agreed in July to spend £10m extra on the roads. This new money will allows us to get ahead of the curve and make a real difference

“We all know that our roads, pavements and bridges need extra investment and this plan seeks to unlock the funding to allow that to happen. This plan gives us a logical and sustainable way out of the current situation - the benefits of which we hope people will begin to see on our roads sooner rather than later.”

As the borrowing will be taken over a number of years, based on individual business cases, the programme of investment can be stopped if the increased [Council Tax] revenue does not materialise. This will keep debt management costs at an affordable level within the medium term financial plan.