Council aims to ‘transform’

South Oxfordshire District Council has approved its 2020/21 budget, marking the start of significant plans to address financial challenges.

The district council has agreed to allocate £500,000 during the next two years for a ‘Transformation’ budget to support its financial stability.  This will include a review of a number of services, with the specific aim of making more money.   

It says this will provide the council with a much better chance of reversing its current ‘challenging’ financial position, caused by reduced government funding, historically low district council tax, and uncertainty about future funding.  

The council faces a budget deficit this year of £2.2million and unless it takes urgent action now it will face a potential funding gap of more than £6 million by 2024.

As part of this work, the ‘Transformation’ budget will also be used to develop plans for creating a single council with Vale of White Horse District Council, its neighbouring authority with which it already shares the majority of its services and staff.

The agreed budget allocates more than £106,000 to a one-year work programme aimed at helping to tackle the climate emergency in South Oxfordshire. 

The programme, put forward by the council’s Climate Emergency Advisory Committee, includes assessing the energy efficiency of rented properties, looking at how and where tree planting may be suitable in the district, and how the council can achieve its zero carbon target for all its facilities by 2025.

The climate emergency will also be a key focus when the council works towards its new local plan. The council has set aside £1.3 million over the next five years for the new plan which will put sustainability and residents’ interests at the heart of future growth.

In approving the budget, the council confirmed a series of immediate cost savings, following a thorough review.  These savings ‘will help to ensure’ that the council can continue to provide high quality front-line services for the immediate future.  There will also be increased charges for the councils’ garden waste and dog bin emptying services.

The council has traditionally charged one of the lowest council tax rates in the country for the services it provides, and its spend per head of population compares well with most other district councils. 

However, this historically low rate has contributed to the council’s current difficult financial position, with less money available to pay for services now, particularly when compared to other councils.  

Cllr David Turner, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Finance at the council, said: ‘Following council approval, we can now begin to take the urgent steps necessary to address our financial situation.  This budget ensures that we have a robust and reliable position on which to base our plans for the upcoming year while we review our services and develop income generation ideas for the future.

‘Despite our ambitious plan for the coming year, there remains a growing question mark over the medium and long-term financial situation.  This is due to the uncertainty over government funding, and we continue to urge ministers to provide clarity on this issue as soon as possible.’

February 25, 2020