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(UK) Oxfordshire: $1.2M proposed to shore up SPED

Jan 12, 2023, Witney Gazette: Oxfordshire County Council budget change: What it means for you https://www.witneygazette.co.uk/news/23246848.oxfordshire-county-council-budget-change-means/

SW England

Oxfordshire County Council's updated budget proposals for 2023/24 include more funding than earlier proposals but also significant further pressures on services due to inflation and growing demands.

Councillor Calum Miller, cabinet member for finance, said: “In summary, we are not having to cut so deeply as expected in November and we are able to do more to strengthen council services, but these remain unprecedented and exceptionally challenging times.”

The newly updated position and revised proposals will be presented to the county council’s cabinet on 24 January and would see some previously announced savings no longer being taken forward….

A total of £1million [$1.5M] is proposed for people with special educational needs and disabilities and for community hubs to support families and young people.

Cllr Miller said: “Since the autumn when we set out our proposed budget for consultation, we have seen rapid changes in a very volatile political and economic environment – both nationally and internationally.

"We were rightly taking a cautious approach by assuming that some government grants would cease.

"As it turned out, we learned in December that some of these would continue into 2023/24. “The Government has also acknowledged the huge social care pressures being experienced by local government and supplied some of the extra money needed.

"However, this was done on the assumption that councils will raise more of the finance required through a 4.99 per cent rise in council tax, 2 per cent of which must be spent on adult social care.

"Officers are recommending this course of action."…

"We are committed to improving the experience of children with special educational needs and disabilities and their families and to earlier, supportive intervention to help vulnerable children and families. These investments will help us do that.

“It must be stressed that this is an evolving situation.

"On 24 January, our cabinet will be asked to recommend a budget to full council, which will finally set the budget on 14 February.

"Even between now and then things are likely to change again – that is the nature of the world we live in just now.

What has changed since the autumn? In November, the council launched a consultation on the basis of potential budget shortfalls of £44million. This was made up of £27million of inflationary pressures and £17million of other demand-led pressures with £35million of savings proposed and a £9million overall gap.

Since then, there have been a number of additions to funding from different sources but also rises in financial pressures.

Overall, government has proposed £20.2million of extra funding for social care, made up of £11.3million in grants and a proposed additional £8.9million from an anticipated council tax rise of 4.99 per cent….

Anticipated additional inflationary impacts are on areas such as the cost of delivering both adults and children’s social care, waste management, highway maintenance, school transport and streetlighting.

Increased estimates since November are based on the most recent Office for Budget Responsibility predictions for 2023/24.

There are also further demand pressures that need to be absorbed in special educational needs-related services and both adults and children’s social care….

These new pressures of £19.4million are in addition to the £8.7million shortfall from the first iteration of the budget that was announced in November. So £28.1million is needed just to balance the books.

Changes to previously announced savings The previously announced savings figure of £35million would reduce to £30million under proposals being made to cabinet. This reflects feedback from the residents’ survey and the public consultation, where residents opposed certain savings.

This includes:… This includes community transport initiatives in both rural and urban areas (£1.2million); the extension of the current discounted ticket offer at park and rides (£500,000) and expanding the supported transport team to work with young people and their families to develop active travel options for getting to their place of education (£300,000) [$370,000]….

Support to children and families Oxfordshire’s children and young people have been particularly affected by the Covid pandemic and, as the country emerges from it, higher numbers are requiring the support of care services and from special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) teams to fulfil their potential in education.
A total of £500,000 [$611K] is proposed to be invested in additional staffing to improve capacity for SEND educational and health care plan (ECHP) reviews and assessments. £500,000 [$611K] is also allocated to accelerate the development of community hubs that will support children and families in accessing support services locally….

Meanwhile the council’s overall financial balances need to be raised to the recognised risk-assessed level. It is proposed to allocate the balance of £6.8million to support the council’s financial position in coming years.

What happens next? Cabinet will discuss the budget proposals at its meeting on 24 January and the annual budget setting meeting of all 63 county councillors will then set a budget for 2023/24 on 14 February.

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