Oxford City Council has announced its plans for a balanced budget over the next four years, including a 2% council tax.
A statement on the Council’s website says, “This is despite the continued significant impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on several of the Council’s income streams and areas of expenditure and a shortfall in the funding received from central Government to offset this.”
The Council has seen a sharp increase in expenditure to support those in need, together with the second year of reduction in revenues from its core income streams.
Income this year is expected to be £500,000 below normal from the Council’s 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) have also been impacted by difficult trading conditions during the pandemic.
The total financial impact of the COVID-19 on Oxford City Council over the period 2020-2026 is forecast to be £23 million.
To date, the Government has provided around £11 million of financial support to the Council in respect of its day to day service delivery. A further £4 million has been provided by Government to support the provision of additional measures to support residents and businesses impacted by the pandemic.
As a result of the funding shortfall, the Council has had to draw on £11.3 million of its £22 million of accessible reserves, and it is now reviewing all key income streams to take a prudent assumption on the future impact of COVID-19.
The Council is looking at proposals to reduce expenditure, increase income and transform services to deliver efficiencies. This includes:
- reducing office space and supporting remote working to enable the letting of two floors of the Council’s offices at St Aldate’s Chambers
- more digitalisation of the Council’s services
- reviewing ICT data storage and software licences, and
- delivering efficiencies in the homelessness service due to countywide changes to provision.
The Council has also had to make difficult choices, including a £200k reduction in its £1.7 million community grant funding budget from 2022-23.
The budget proposes a Council Tax increase of 1.99 per cent, which for a Band D Council Tax charge equates to £6.37 per annum, bringing in £326.54 per annum 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.
This will be in addition to a 3 per cent increase by the Oxfordshire County Council for what is known as the adult social care precept, which must be spent on providing adult social care.
Parking charges will increase by 50p per hour in City Centre car parks and 20p per hour in suburban car parks but remain frozen in Oxford’s five Park & Rides.
Despite the financial challenges, the Council aims to maintain full council tax support for those on the lowest incomes and protect its Youth Ambition programme that helps disadvantaged 11 to 19 year-olds.
The Council also plans to redevelop and improve three community centres (Bullingdon, East Oxford and Blackbird Leys) and continue with its programme to deliver over 1,000 new council houses over the next decade.
It will also continue with its £14 million programmes of decarbonisation works across the Council’s leisure centres and £2 million investment in the Ray Valley solar farm to enable Oxford City Council and Oxford as a whole to progress to net zero carbon emissions.
Other measures in the proposed budget for 2022/23 and MTFS 2022-26 include:
- 20 million for regeneration of property within the city
- £9 for the refurbishment of properties at Cave Street for lettings to small businesses for offices and studio units
- £6 million of Housing Infrastructure Fund (HIF) capital to support the delivery of development at Osney Mead by contributing to the Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme (OFAS) and walking and cycling improvements
- £6 million of Oxfordshire Growth Fund grant to fund construction of Osney Bridge
- £51m of planned maintenance, refurbishments and estate improvements to the existing stock of 7,664 council houses over the next four years
- £8.7 million over the next 4 years to improve the energy efficiency of those council homes that need it the most
- Completion of the Energy Superhub Oxford, the largest public electric vehicle (EV) charging hub, and delivery of an EV Infrastructure Strategy for Oxford
Councillor Ed Turner, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Finance and Asset Management, said: “Our budget situation this year is extremely challenging. The principal reason for this is the fallout from the pandemic, which continues to have a profound effect on the Council’s finances.
“We still have businesses struggling to pay rents for their premises owned by the City Council, the trading activity of Oxford Direct Services has been affected, the leisure services in Oxford have seen fewer visitors (as they have nationally), and room hire income is also down.
“As a result of this, at the start of the year, we already planned to use £11 million of our reserves – almost half the useable reserves held by our Council, to handle the consequences of the pandemic.”
Following the Cabinet meeting, the budget will go out to public consultation from 16 December 2021 until 31 January 2022, with the final decision to be made by Council on 16 February 2022.