South Oxfordshire District Council has published its budget report for 2021/22, including proposals to allocate more than £500,000 to supporting community projects across the district.
The report will be considered by the council’s Cabinet on 4 February and at the Scrutiny Committee on 9 February. The budget will then be debated, and voted on, at the full Council meeting on 11 February.
The district council must agree its 2021/22 budget by the end of the month, however there is continued uncertainty over how much funding will be made available to local authorities this year and how much money they will need in order to meet the additional challenges caused by Covid-19.
Since the pandemic began, the district council has re-allocated significant resources in order to provide vital support for residents and businesses across the district. This has included: administering more than £33 million in Covid-19 support grants and running support services for businesses; and providing a new Community Support Hub, supporting 5,959 residents, including direct assistance for 803 people. It is currently expected that this work will need to continue well into 2021.
The council’s income also remains significantly affected by the Covid-19 restrictions. The government is not planning on publishing details about how these restrictions may be lifted until late February, meaning it is very difficult to accurately predict income across a number of services.
Like many councils, South Oxfordshire still faces significant challenges resulting from years of funding reductions from government, and the ongoing lack of clarity about the future of local authority financing. Along with the other Oxfordshire councils, South Oxfordshire has repeatedly called on the government to urgently provide additional funding to help ensure the future of vital public services.
Given the ongoing circumstances, Cllr Leigh Rawlins, Cabinet Member for Finance, is proposing a budget for 2021/22 which will allow the council to continue to support residents and business during Covid-19 while also bringing forward areas identified in the 2020/21 budget, such as tackling the climate emergency, addressing the council’s own long-term financial challenges, and working towards improved economic and community well-being, all of which are key themes in the council’s new Corporate Plan.
The proposed budget would result in an increase of £5 to current band “D” council tax, for services provided by the district council, to £131.24. Last year, South Oxfordshire’s band D rate of £126.24 was the seventh lowest in the country for a shire district and significantly lower than the national average of £194.22.
Cllr Leigh Rawlins, Cabinet Member for Finance at South Oxfordshire District Council, said: “Like all local authorities, the Covid-19 pandemic continues to provide significant challenges for us, both operationally and financially.
“It is very difficult to say how long this will continue, or what the potential long-term impact may be. We hope that things will become a little clearer once there is sufficient evidence to show how the vaccine is working and the government publishes its pathway out of lockdown.
“We are legally required to agree our budget before then and so we will need to keep the budget under review during the year and revisions may be required once we have more certainty.
“As a council we are absolutely committed to the priorities laid out in our new Corporate Plan. One of our key themes is to improve economic and community well-being. We know that many people have been badly affected by the pandemic and we will continue to provide support for our residents and business, both while restrictions are in place and once the focus switches to economic recovery. Following last year’s budget, we will also continue to move forward with our other new priorities, such as doing all we can, as a council and as a community, to tackle the climate emergency.
“We will also continue to focus on ensuring our financial stability and addressing the significant challenge posed by the substantial reduction in government funding over recent years and the ongoing lack of clarity over the future of local authority financing. As part of this effort we again ask the government to urgently address this situation and provide councils and their residents a long-term commitment to providing sufficient money to ensure that vital public services are protected.”
The budget report and papers can be viewed under item 9 here – http://democratic.southoxon.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=121&MId=2652