Oxfordshire County Council told to find £20 million more savings

Councillor Ian Hudspeth, Leader of Oxfordshire County Council NNL-150411-132839001
Councillor Ian Hudspeth, Leader of Oxfordshire County Council NNL-150411-132839001

Oxfordshire County Council leader Ian Hudspeth has said news of the council having to increase its savings from £50 million to £70 million is ‘a bleak settlement’ for the county.

The council had originally been preparing for up to £50 million of savings from 2016 to 2020 on top of the £292 million it is already in the process of making from 2010 to 2018.

But on the basis of figures provided by central Government last Thursday, the county council would now have to make the final saving in the region of £70m over the next four years.

Oxfordshire County Council has joined other county councils in the UK in saying that grant funding levels from central Government are much worse than had been feared, and councillor Ian Hudspeth said: “This has been a bleak settlement for us in Oxfordshire.

“The government has changed the formula for funding councils, and it seems shire counties – particularly in the south of England - have come off worst.

“We are now faced with the incredibly difficult task of setting a balanced budget for next year after now that the £51m of savings we have already found will certainly not be enough.

“This will hit service users and the council hard. It was only last Thursday that councillors from all parties looked at reviewed the saving options and heard from service users who talked about the impact these cuts would have on their lives.

“The Government has said that they are consulting on the figures released and we will be telling them in blunt terms about the impact of further cuts on the people of Oxfordshire.

“We already knew we had incredibly tough choices to make. While we will continue to try to protect the most vulnerable people, that financial situation has now worsened considerably.”

County councils are losing out due to wholesale changes to the system that determines funding for individual councils that is shifting funding away from shire counties to councils serving Britain’s major cities.

County councils were not consulted about this change and the impact of the funding change will hit upper tier authorities in the first year.

In his Autumn Statement, Chancellor George Osborne announced that county councils would be able to levy an extra two per cent Council Tax rise on top of the two per cent that is already allowed.

But the money raised from this increase is potentially cancelled out by central Government’s failure to provide councils with the money to cover the costs of the introduction of the National Living Wage in the care sector – which Oxfordshire county council estimates will cost an additional £16 million -40 million by 2019/20.

The county council sets its final budget on February 16, with Cabinet members recommending a budget to full council on January 26.