Budget agreed after six-hour discussion

Oxfordshire County Council has set its budget
Oxfordshire County Council has set its budget

Savings of around £38m have to be made by Oxfordshire County Council over the 2017/18 tax year in a budget which was narrowly agreed at a meeting on Tuesday.

OCC’s proposed budget was carried by 31 votes to 29 after a six hour debate in the council chamber.

A council tax increase of 4.99 per cent was approved for county council services, with three per cent ringfenced for adult social care.

And although some additional money has been made available, the budget sees OCC continuing to make changes in a bid to save money.

The budget includes new funding for adult social care through a one-off grant of £2.3m. Combined with money ringfenced from council tax, new funding for adult social care totals £20.3m over the next three years. The money will be spent on:

> £6.586m on meeting ‘demographic pressures’ in adult social care;

> £3.353m on meeting new funding pressures;

> £10.3m for 2017-20 will be spent on pressures such as the increase in the national living wage with the county council obliged to help private and voluntary care sector organisations with their costs.

As a result of the new funding for adult social care, £5.3m that was set aside for meeting demographic pressures in that area will be spent on meeting an increase in demand in children’s social care.

That includes £600,000 added to the budget after better than expected business rate collections, council tax collection fund surpluses and a higher than expected grant. That has led to the council having an extra £1.957m.

Of that £1.957m:

> £776,000 will be set aside to be spent in the 2018/19 tax year;

> £170,000 will be spent on extra grass cutting;

> £250,000 on a communities fund with local councillors deciding how the money will be spent in their areas;

> An extra £11,000 will be added to the flood defence levy;

> £150,000 on continuing to provide area stewards for local highway work.

The council tax increase has been agreed after the government increased the amount it will allow councils which provide adult social care to raise in council tax, from four per cent (with two per cent ringfenced for adult social care) to five per cent (three per cent ringfenced for adult social care).

This means council tax ringfenced for adult social care over the next two years has increased from four per cent to six, although there is no extra permanent money overall.

Of this temporary finance:

> OCC will spend £875,000 more than it intended on changes to adult day services;

> £1.01m on helping the private and voluntary sector with recruiting, retaining, training and supporting care staff;

> £1.485m on increasing staff capacity, largely in the private and voluntary sector. It also includes training staff to improve their commercial negotiating skills.

OCC is also looking to reduce the number of senior managers and make savings of £15m over the next two years through its Fit for the Future programme, a reorganisation of how the council operates.

The savings also include changes to adult day services and personal budgets awarded to carers with eligible needs.

Council leader Ian Hudspeth said: “We’ve taken difficult decisions over the last seven years because we forecast rising demand for services and reducing government funding.

“Our auditors have confirmed our four-year budget plan is ‘realistic’ and that we have ‘put in place proper resources to secure value for money’ at a time when other county councils are talking about unfunded gaps in their budget.”