Community well-being and climate action in South Oxfordshire’s 2023/24 budget
Action on climate change and key projects to enhance community wellbeing and support those most in need can progress thanks to South Oxfordshire District Council’s improved financial position.
The council can focus on these priorities because its councillors have approved a budget for 2023/4 that shows a financial position in a healthier state than previously forecast thanks to the careful budgeting work in recent years. It also means the council needs to draw over a million pounds less from its reserves to balance the budget than it had prepared for a year ago*.
£1 million will be invested over the next two years to drive the council’s corporate plan priorities, including ‘Everyone Active’, an active communities grant scheme, and continuation of the Community Hub to support the district’s most vulnerable residents.
The Community Hub plays an important role supporting the council’s ongoing response work for refugees and asylum seekers and works with partners to lead and deliver programmes to address inequalities. As well as providing wide-ranging support and advice for residents the Community Hub delivers cost-of-living help for those in most financial need, such as the Household Support Fund.
The budget also recognises the housing pressures within the district and allocates ongoing support for the council’s dedicated homelessness prevention work across the district. The budget identifies £4.6 million of capital growth linked to the government’s Local Authority Housing Fund, responding to the UK’s humanitarian duties to assist those fleeing war. The £4.6 million represents the council’s share of the cost towards providing a supply of ‘move-on’ and settled accommodation initially for refugees and asylum seekers. This all complements £2 million of funding to secure homes for people in need that was formally agreed in December having been allocated in last year’s budget.
The capital budget will be used to improve South Oxfordshire’s infrastructure, including flood prevention, leisure centre improvements and resurfacing and lighting replacement at the council’s car parks. Decarbonisation funding, including some Government support, will contribute to retrofitting energy saving measures at Cornerstone Arts Centre.
Retaining its investment in climate action, the budget includes funds to progress some significant outcomes from priority projects already begun, including tree planting and meadow creation, an extension of last year’s No Mow May called ‘Let it Bee’ and supporting water quality work including an application for Bathing Water Status for a stretch of River Thames.
This year the council will increase its share of the council tax by £5 a year for an average Band D property, so for 2023/24 residents will pay a Band D rate of £141.24 per household for the vital services provided by the district council. This represents a below inflation increase of 3.6 per cent. In 2022/23 the Band D rate was the nineth lowest in the country for a shire district council.
Whilst the short-term position is more positive, there is uncertainty around future local government funding, especially from 2025/26 onwards. The council has set its medium-term financial plan to 2027/28 to help deliver its corporate priorities and continue to provide high-quality frontline services in the meantime. Financial pressures in that medium-term timeframe predicted to affect all councils are the state of the national economy and the lack of clarity on local authority funding.
Cllr Pieter-Paul Barker, Cabinet member for finance and property assets at South Oxfordshire District Council said: “Our strong financial decision making over the last few years has helped secure stability for the short term – a good position to be in given the national challenges over recent months and years.
“We’ve worked hard putting the right policy and strategy building blocks in place so we can deliver on the priorities set out in our Corporate Plan. This year’s budget can now make the most of the income streams available to us including revenue from council tax, developer contributions and external funding.
“We’ve been able to unlock significant funds for housing and for continuing to help people through this cost-of-living emergency.
“We’re upgrading systems and making improvements to become a more efficient and customer friendly council, making it easier for people to get what they need from us. As well as continuing to provide and improve our valued public services we can also drive forward some outstanding projects that improve local amenities and help protect the environment, bringing valuable future benefits for our communities.”
More about the 2023/24 budget
*£643,673 will be drawn from reserves this year,compared to a budgeted draw on reserves in 2022/23 of £2.108 million, and to the estimated draw of £1.752 million for 2023/24 when the 2022/23 budget was set.
The budget report and papers can be viewed on our website.