“More realistic budget” required as City Council predicts £1.8m overspend on housing repairs

“More realistic budget” required as City Council predicts £1.8m overspend on housing repairs
Oxford City Council is predicting a £1.8m overspend on housing repairs

Oxford City Council is predicting it will overspend by £1.8 million more than planned on council housing repairs in this financial year.

The figures were questioned this week on the back of December’s performance report to the council’s cabinet, one of whom suggested “a more realistic budget” would be required from April.

Each section of any council’s budget has many moving parts, with forecasts against what was originally budgeted for monitored throughout the financial year, which starts each April.

Oxford’s housing revenue account, budgeted to handle more than £47 million of income and expenditure in 2022/23, was expected to make a modest £64,000 profit. 

But that outlook has worsened by more than £1.4 million overall, due largely to an extra spend of £1.808 million on “responsive and cyclical repairs”.

The report adds “the majority” of that relates to budgets delegated to Oxford Direct Services (ODS), the city council-owned company that maintains housing stock, parks and streets.

The report estimates around £223,000 of “material price increases as a result of the current economic market”, with the council “working closely with the team at ODS to ensure all reasonable steps are taken to mitigate the forecast overspend where possible and work on the management of the delegated budgets to ensure that this situation does not happen again”.

General minor works are forecast to cost £1.262 million more than expected, although the council says “expenditure against this budget is to be examined for any items that can be legitimately charged to capital” – a different council budget.

The bill to fix fences is set to come in £641,000 over budget due to storm damage.

“A revised approach to the replacement of broken fencing is currently being composed, with the intention of introducing a more pragmatic and cost effective solution for the re-provision of fencing,” added the report. 

Another £256,000 overspend is expected due to an increase in the number of void properties, driven by increased investment in new housing.

Councillor Nigel Chapman (Lab, Headington Hill & Northway), the city’s cabinet member for citizen-focused services, expects the figures to “move around a bit” and “hopefully” improve before March 31 but was quick to defend extra spending.

“It is driven by a number of factors,” he said. “The scale of the work and its scope, a big backlog of work that needs to be done, which was built up under the lockdown period.

“We don’t want our tenants to be at a disadvantage for years and years and not have the right things done in relation to their houses and flats.

“There is quite a lot of extra spend on fencing. We have had a lot of storms in Oxford, unfortunately, and fencing is pretty expensive to replace.

“Generally, there is the cost of inflation in building materials which I am sure everyone is aware of, so that is driving all of this cost uplift.

“We are going to have to set a more realistic budget next year, given the scale of the undertakings we need to carry on doing for people. 

“Whilst nobody likes to be imprecise with the finances, this has been spent on good things that are of value to our council tenants. They need this, and we need to get this backlog shifted.”

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