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Leader’s report to Council – 13 February 2020

Firstly, a big thank you to all of those involved in putting on and manning the exhibition about our new offices which we hope to be in use just along the road in the not-too-distant future. We wish the team well in bringing this exciting project to fruition and of course Andrea who will be shepherding it through on our behalf. Thank you also to all those who have had input into creating the budget which we have been considering this evening.

Special thanks must go to those who worked hard in their areas to make savings and continue to supply good services, and of course to David Turner, Cabinet Member for Finance for bringing this together and presenting the budget this evening.  I am also grateful to the Scrutiny Committee for their comments on the budget and you will have noted that we took their advice to maintain councillor grants at the same rate as last year.

One of the more exciting parts of the budget is the proposal for a Transformation Budget. With councils now having to find ways of creating new sources of income to augment council tax and replace government funding, it is essential to have some staff to work in this area. We currently have quite a lean workforce so it will be necessary to bring in new staff, probably with different skills, to undertake some of this work. I am sorry we can’t predict what rate of return this will bring, but until someone has done some work on it, it would be irresponsible to make such predictions. But we know that other councils do raise money in this way so there is no reason why we shouldn’t. It is just that we are somewhat behind others.

All this talk of hard work on the budget brings me to my next topic, that of making us a considerate employer and not expecting our staff to work unreasonably long hours. Audit and Governance considered this at their recent meeting, and we all agreed that we needed to tackle the “long hours culture”. I would like to thank the chair of Audit and Governance for his input and request, which I believe should have reached all members, that we all try to treat our staff considerately and not make unreasonable demands upon their time. I would also like to thank our Chief Executive for all his diligence and long hours on our behalf, particularly in dealing with the enormous workload associated with the 5 Councils contract.

And now to what gives me many hours of work – the emerging Local Plan 2034. I am still waiting for a face-to-face meeting with the Secretary of State to discuss this, as he agreed in Parliament in response to a question from Layla Moran MP. And we have still not heard what he intends for our plan following the directive imposed more than four months ago.

As some of you will know, Oxfordshire County Council had, on Tuesday’s Council agenda, a recommendation that, should the Secretary of State invite OCC to: prepare or revise the South Oxfordshire Local Plan pursuant to powers under section 27A of, and paragraph 7B of Schedule A1 to, the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, Council should accept such an invitation subject to satisfactory assurances being received in relation to the recovery of its costs. I, Cllrs Bennet and Rawlins and a number of other South Oxfordshire groups and individuals addressed the County Council on this, all asking that Local Plan making should stay in South Oxfordshire. But the recommendation was passed with 39 for, 16 against and four abstentions (three of whom were South Oxfordshire County Councillors). But I would like to thank all those who came and supported our plea to retain local democracy, particularly those who spoke so eloquently. I regret that decision, but I am keen that we continue to work with Oxfordshire County Council for the good of the residents of South Oxfordshire.