One council for Oxfordshire could reduce Council Tax and increase investment in roads

Oxfordshire County Council has released the report, as the Cabinet recommends a budget for 2015/16 which requires more than £20m of savings, on top of the £265m either made or already planned by 2017/18. The report itself can be found here

The saving could be made by combining the county, four districts and city council into a single ‘unitary’ local authority. The report concludes that savings could be made by reducing bureaucracy and the costs of democratic decision making, while creating a single council that would be better able to meet the major challenges of a growing and aging population.

The Government has reduced local government funding and capped council tax, which means only changing council structures can deliver the savings required to maintain vital services and plan for economic growth. By 2020, 75% of the county council’s budget will go on social care for 2% of the population on current trends.

Cllr Ian Hudspeth, Leader of Oxfordshire County Council, said: “We are beyond the point where further savings can be achieved by finding more efficiencies or ‘salami slicing’ of services and we must find a different way of being able to provide essential services to our residents.

"As Leader of the Council it is my job to leave no stone unturned in seeking to provide the best services for Oxfordshire's residents. Fundamentally I must ensure that we have the resources available to fund the services that our residents need.

“This is now the start of a debate. I am sure all options in this report will be considered and examined in detail. There may be other options that people wish to propose, I will welcome the opportunity to consider them as part of the debate.”

One council for Oxfordshire would be better able to plan for the expected growth in population by combining responsibility for housing, schools, planning and transport. This could all be done while reducing the Council Tax paid by most residents in Oxfordshire, and reducing the pressure on frontline services.

The report by global accountancy firm EY was commissioned by Oxfordshire County Council as part of a fundamental rethink about how it can meet rising demand for adult and children’s care services, while meeting the challenges of enabling economic growth to ensure a thriving Oxfordshire in the long term.

Cllr Ian Hudspeth, Leader of Oxfordshire County Council, added:

“After looking at all the options for reducing our costs and still needing to find more savings it was clear we needed a game-changer to protect frontline services in the longer-term. Creating one council for Oxfordshire could well be that game-changer and we need to have a debate about that.

“By saving £33m a year, which means Council Tax could be reduced, I would argue this presents the best deal for Oxfordshire residents. It would also create a once-in-a-generation chance to invest in Oxfordshire’s transport network, including road and public transport improvements.”

The report looked at three models of council reorganisation: a single council for Oxfordshire; two councils based on Oxford and the rest of the county; and three councils covering the city, north Oxfordshire and south Oxfordshire. All three models would save money, but EY found that the single council option created by far the biggest potential saving. It concluded that a single council could:

  • Reduce the number of chief executives and senior managers that are duplicated across the current arrangements;
  • Reduce the numbers of councillors and their costs. There are currently 309 Oxfordshire councillors at county and district / city council levels, with expenses of over £2m per year. This could be reduced to under 100 councillors, sitting on a single council and dealing with all service issues in a coordinated way;
  • Potentially reduce council tax levels for 80% of Oxfordshire's residents to the current lowest rate in the county. This would dramatically reduce bills for many, particularly residents in the city of Oxford who currently pay £167 per year for city council services. This could be reduced to the level in West Oxfordshire, currently £82 per year.

The report also highlighted the potential for pooling council reserves worth over £250m into a single pot. A new unitary council could then decide to invest strategically in vitally needed infrastructure - for example, potentially providing the much wished for relief roads in Banbury, Didcot and Wantage and tackling congestion on the A40.