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Leader’s statement to council 8 October 2020

Covid update

Unfortunately, we are still living in strange times because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Infection rates are increasing across the country… our district currently remains at the amber level but we’re preparing for any changes to that, and to any future changes to restrictions whether that’s nationally or locally.

Our community hub is central to our preparations, particularly as we will have responsibility to deliver several hundred food parcels a week if the shielding programme starts up again, a job the government did last time.

We will again be working very closely with our wonderful community support groups, as you will see in our draft Corporate Plan.

Our environmental health and economic development teams are helping to ensure our residents remain safe by making sure businesses adhere to the guidelines, and we’re making sure residents and businesses are aware of the financial support packages that are available, some of which we’re administering.

So, please be sensible – Obey rules – handwashing, use of masks and maintaining social distancing – and encourage others to do likewise. 

Emerging Local Plan

As you know, the Local Plan is now in the hands of the inspector. He is currently consulting on the 78 Main Modifications which you can read about on the council’s website. Do please respond to these, before midnight on 2 November 2020, if you wish and perhaps encourage others to respond too?

Interim budget

 This year, for the first time for many years I am told, we have had to have an interim update to the budget. It is, to say the least, unfortunate we have had to do this as the Secretary of State’s promise last March to provide all the necessary funding to cover our Covid expenditure has not been forthcoming. So, I would like to thank our cabinet member for Finance, Cllr Leigh Rawlins, and of course our head of Finance Simon Hewings and his team for all their hard work on this revised budget. I think we are quite fortunate compared with some councils to have sufficient reserves that we can use some for this “rainy day” expenditure.

This brings me to my next topic, as some councils are being forced by their precarious financial state into reorganisation.

Future of Local Government – Local Government review/reorganisation or “Devolution”

The white paper on this is rumoured to have been, quite sensibly I think, postponed until next year while we concentrate on dealing with Covid.

Other government consultations

We have recently responded to consultations on the government’s suggestions for “temporary adjustments to the planning system & the England’s Economic Heartland draft Transport Strategy. Our main concerns on the first of these are around how we can possibly get the numbers of social rented homes that are so needed in our area. The transport strategy had lots of good words about sustainable forms of transport, very little on how freight should be moved and fairly obscure references to new roads, including the dreaded Ox Cam Arc Expressway.

The big consultation coming up now is that on the Planning White Paper. Do look at this and respond before 29 October if you wish. We have a written briefing on it and next week there will be a question and answer session.

To end some more cheerful notes. The long awaited new website is actually coming on stream. This week we have been sharing the really exciting news on our new offices, well placed on the excellent accessible Didcot Gateway site neatly between the two districts South Oxfordshire and the Vale of White horse whose residents it will serve. As we own the site and we will no longer need to pay out large sums to rent offices elsewhere it should good opportunities for savings. And if we build to high zero carbon standards as we are hoping we should have reduced running costs too.

Finally, the Corporate Plan – my thanks to all in getting this Plan to where it is now. It was particularly heartening to get so many interested and interesting responses to our consultation on the draft version so thank you to all those who sent in comments, and of course to our staff who recorded and analysed them all. It is really good to be able to look forward and start delivering for our district and its people.

And remember

Hands, face, space!

Cllr Sue Cooper

Leader of South Oxfordshire District Council