Oxford City Council’s Cabinet has agreed a balanced budget over the next four years, despite the continued impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Council’s income and expenditure, and a shortfall in the funding from the Government. The Budget was agreed at the Cabinet meeting on 9 February.
Council Tax will increase by 1.99 per cent, which for a Band D Council Tax charge equates to £6.37 a year, or a total charge of £326.54 a year to fund Oxford City Council. Separate Council Tax precepts support Oxfordshire County Council, Thames Valley Police and Crime Commissioner and - for residents in Blackbird Leys, Old Marston, Littlemore and Risinghurst & Sandhills Parish Councils.
The Council will maintain full council tax support for those on the lowest incomes, protect its Youth Ambition programme, maintain its network of community centres with three being rebuilt, continue its programme to deliver over 1,000 new council houses and invest in decarbonisation measures to enable Oxford City Council and Oxford to progress to net zero carbon emissions.
Oxford City Council will continue to coordinate the response to the pandemic. The Council has distributed nearly £1 million to support vulnerable households, £132 million to help impacted businesses and support the wider economy, plus £8.6 million over the past two years to house and support rough sleepers.
The Council has seen a sharp increase in expenditure and a second year of reduced revenues due to the pandemic. Income is expected to be £500,000 below normal from leisure centres, £850,000 lower from Town Hall room hire, £1.5 million down from car parks and £3.74 million less in rents from commercial premises. Earnings from the Council’s wholly owned companies Oxford Direct Services Ltd (ODS) and Oxford City Housing Ltd (OCHL), which generate income that funds council services, have also been impacted.
The financial impact of the pandemic is forecast to be £23 million. To date, the Government has provided around £11 million of financial support for day to day service delivery and £4 million to support residents and businesses. The Council had to draw on £11.3 million of its £22 million reserves, and it is now reviewing key income streams and identifying proposals to reduce expenditure, increase income and transform services to deliver efficiencies.
Efficiencies of £16.1 million are planned for the four years of the Medium Term Financial Strategy (MTFS) – 2022-2026. Actions include reducing office space and supporting remote working to enable the letting of two floors of St Aldate’s Chambers; provide more digitalisation of the Council’s services and going cashless, reviewing ICT data storage and software licences, and the delivering efficiencies in the homelessness service.
Public responses to the consultation on the proposed budget showed strong majority support for the Council’s ‘Oxford Model’ in which it uses its wholly-owned companies ODS and OCHL to generate income that helps fund services. There was also clear majority support for the proposed 1.99% increase in Council tax to safeguard services, alongside other income generation and cost saving measures that link with the Council’s ongoing transformation programme.
There are some difficult choices in the budget, including an increase parking charges by 50p per hour in city centre car parks and 20p per hour in suburban carparks. However, charges in the Park and Rides will be frozen. The budget proposes not to reduce core funding for Oxford’s network of advice centres, after additional resources were found to reverse a £25,000 reduction which was reluctantly proposed during the budget consultation.
The Budget will now go to the Full Council Budget meeting on 16 February.
Click here for a comment by Councillor Ed Turner, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Finance and Asset Management