County council’s cabinet approves plan to meet current and future budget challenges

Oxfordshire County Council’s cabinet heard of the significant challenges ahead to set a balanced budget for next year (2023/24) as it agreed its approach to setting next year’s budget.

The council’s cabinet today (18 October) reviewed a report that outlined the process for developing and agreeing the budget for 2023/24 and the assumptions on which the existing medium term financial strategy (MTFS), agreed in February 2022, is based. It listed the financial pressures on the county council and local government as a whole, given the national and international economic situation.

All local authorities face significant increases in inflation that are driving up costs and price increases in energy, fuel and materials. This year, the government is not expected to hold a spending review so government funding will not keep pace with inflation, leading to a predicted funding shortfall of over £30 million next year.

The council is also estimating around £20m of other demand-led pressures, which include the growing nationwide costs of supporting children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities; 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 recent Census also confirms Oxfordshire has a growing and ageing population, which will continue to increase demand on services. Currently, in total, the council estimates it needs to make savings of around £50m by 2024.

In addition, the financial impact of implementing the government’s adult social care reforms is unclear and could add to these pressures. Finally, on top of this, the long-term financial impact of supporting children with high needs remains uncertain. The support is managed by the council but is funded separately through the government’s dedicated schools grant, which has been consistently less than the sum required in Oxfordshire. In 2022/23 for example, there is a £17.5m shortfall.

Councillor Calum Miller, Oxfordshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Finance, said: “We know that households across our county are facing huge financial challenges this autumn. Rising prices make this a cost of living emergency. The county council is also facing major budget pressures. The government has confirmed it will not be holding a spending review this year to update budgets in light of soaring inflation so we are facing a significant funding shortfall of at least £50 million.

“The county council is on the frontline of supporting the most vulnerable people in our communities. We are committed to them and their families but, as the cost of doing this rises and our funding fails to keep pace, we face tough choices.

“We will manage the council’s finances responsibly and are planning ahead carefully to meet current and future financial challenges. We are engaging with residents about the big issues that matter most to them and their communities and are sharing the challenge of delivering services under these circumstances. We encourage residents to take part in our Oxfordshire Conversation events. We will use this feedback to help us shape our budget proposals for next year.”

Currently, the council’s medium-term financial strategy is based on 2.99 per cent council tax rises in coming years with one per cent of this being ringfenced for adult social care. However, council tax and budget proposals generally are reviewed annually and for 2023/24 would not be agreed until February 2023.

During the second half of November, the county council will publish the detail of its budget proposals for 2023/24 and the public will be asked to give views as part of a consultation. The proposals will be considered by the Performance and Corporate Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee during December. The committee’s views and the public consultation results will be reported to the council’s cabinet in January before the budget is set at a meeting with all county councillors in February 2023.

Oxfordshire Conversations

The county council had planned to run a series of public events called Oxfordshire Conversations in September, which were postponed as part of the mourning period for Her Majesty the Queen. We have rescheduled three online events in October where residents can discuss the big issues that matter to them and their communities. Residents will be able to ask the county council decision makers their burning questions and share their priorities to help shape the council’s budget during these tough times.

We are asking residents to book a place on Let’s talk Oxfordshire.

Events taking place:

  • Wednesday 19 October, 7pm - 8.30pm, online (Microsoft Teams)
  • Thursday 20 October, 2.30pm - 4pm, online (Microsoft Teams)
  • Friday 21 October, 2.30pm - 4pm, online (Microsoft Teams).