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Coronavirus: Oxfordshire County Council faces £16m funding shortfall

A series of proposals in response to budget challenges have been revealed.

The Council is expected to go over budget by around £51 million due to Covid-19.

It's received almost £31 million in grant funding from the Government for the current financial year, but now the council needs to find a way to make up the rest of the funding gap.

The Council's Cabinet will be asked to approve around £15m of savings for 2020/21 at a budget meeting later this month.

In order to save money the authority is recommending to delay spending £200,000 on youth services and only spending £25,000 instead this year.

It's also looking at delaying the purchase of a Fire Engine and replacing older diesel vehicles in the fire service.

Under the plans, the authority would also delay implementing a new strategy for Children's Social Care.

The council is expecting to save £306,000 in utility bills because it'soffice buildings have being closed for months and says £400,000 should be saved because of reduced spending on things like expenses and travel.

Councillor David Bartholomew, Cabinet Member for Finance, said: "We are proposing to take a careful and measured approach and are seeking to protect frontline services as much as we can.

"Throughout the pandemic, the council has gone the extra mile to support local residents on a daily basis. We have made rapid adjustments to meet new demands - such as establishing dedicated customer contact teams to support the most vulnerable - and have stepped up work in critical frontline services, such as ensuring schools are kept open for vulnerable children and those of key workers. 

"We have done this without question in order to support and protect the most vulnerable in our communities. But, like other local authorities across England, we now find ourselves in a position whereby we are being asked to cover a significant proportion of the cost for this. In taking these steps to balance our books, we are doing our utmost to minimise the impact on our frontline services and to protect those who so badly need our support.

"While ensuring we meet our legal duty to balance our budget, we are continuing to work with councils across England to call on the Government for further funding for councils at this critical time."

Councillor Ian Hudspeth, the leader of the county council, some savings have been made during the pandemic though:

Ian Hudspeth added: "Further financial pressures will follow as we restart services in a COVID-compliant manner, such as operating home to school transport, with staggered school opening times and social distancing measures in place. 

"The possibility of a second wave of the virus later this year, particularly if combined with a flu epidemic, would also place a huge strain on existing resources, especially if lockdown is required and services have to be stood down again.

"Moreover, there may well be significant costs in future years arising from COVID as a result of reduced business rates and council tax. When we get to Winter and need to set a budget for 2021/22 and beyond, it is likely to be extremely challenging.

"There is an ongoing debate about how local government services in Oxfordshire could be delivered differently in the future to protect ourselves better from financial challenges.

The Government is producing a White Paper in the Autumn about local recovery and the shape of local government across England. It will be interesting to see what emerges from that, and Oxfordshire's councils are already engaging with each other in anticipation of that White Paper."  

Other proposed measures include:

  • In highways and transport, £500,000 relating to various schemes will be charged to capital (project) budgets instead of from day to day spend in revenue budgets. 
  • Extra money as a one-off was allocated for 2020/21 for additional vegetation clearance and sign cleaning. A total of £175,000 of additional 2020/21 allocation is being offered back as a potential saving. This does not affect the council's normal level of service.
  • Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue propose to save £200,000 by delaying plans to replace older diesel vehicles with electric vehicles by one year. The ambition is to have a full fleet of electric cars for general and operational use. It will have no impact on service delivery, but will delay the reduction in emissions from the fleet
  • Last year Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue changed how it worked, increasing the flexibility of the service to meet demand at different times of the day. This trial has allowed it to delay the delivery of one fire engine this year - leading to a 2020/21 saving proposal of £130,000. The service is confident it has the resilience to support this for an additional 12 months.
  • A review of roles in the council's Road Agreements Team would contribute to a £230,000 saving if agreed. This is about using income the council receives in a different way. Income will be used to fund some junior posts instead of the council's base budget. Part of the saving would also be met from a change to how the council supports its Lead Local Flood Authority work.

A budget for 2021/22 and beyond won't be set until February 2021. 

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