Today Oxford City Council's Labour group published its consultation budget for 2014/15, and the four-year "Medium Term Financial Strategy". This will be discussed at a meeting of the City Executive Board on 11th December, consultation will take place in January (including an online survey and a questionnaire in the Oxford Mail), and the final decision will be taken by councillors on 24th February.
Already Oxford City Council's government grant has been cut by around 28%, and this trend is set to continue, with a further 13% set to be removed in the 2014/15, and 31% in 2015/16. This is against a backdrop of rising pressures on services.
The priority of Labour councillors is to improve services, protect the vulnerable from cuts, avoid compulsory redundancies, and narrow the gap between rich and poor.
Key features of the budget include:
- A balanced budget proposed over four years, so people are clear what they can expect
- Major efficiencies proposed in the area of council administration, car parking, property and a review of assets and of investment
- Council tax rises of 1.99% each year
- Retention of the existing level of council tax support for low income households, in spite of reductions in government funding for this
- A rise in Oxford's Living Wage to £8.36 an hour, which will apply to staff, suppliers and contractors
- A capital programme of £134 million over the next four years, which will be procured according to policies to support the living wage, apprenticeships and local firms
- Investments in priority areas, including:
- Food recycling provision to be rolled out across all flats in Oxford
- A design review panel for new developments
- Funding for ambitious plans for the Covered Market
- Flood mitigation measures in Northway and Marston, in partnership with the Environment Agency
- Increased funding for cycle lanes
- Longer opening for city-centre toilets
- A rolling fund to compulsorily purchase empty properties and bring them back into use
- Extended parking spaces at the Leys Health Centre
- Work to improve drainage at Rose Hill recreation ground
- A new CCTV camera at Speedwell Street
- A new sports pavilion and community facility at Quarry Recreation Ground
- A doubling of funding for "Great Estates", the Council's programme to improve the quality of the local environment on Council estates
- Increased funding to support people to move to smaller properties and beat the hated "bedroom tax".
In addition, work to raise educational attainment, raise standards in privately rented housing, provide more activities for young people, and promote sport in schools, will continue as agreed in previous years.
Councillor Ed Turner, Deputy Leader of Oxford City Council and Board Member for Finance, said: "We are committed to providing improved services to people in Oxford, in spite of huge budget cuts from central government. I would pay tribute to the way staff across our Council have risen to this challenge. There are many proposals in this budget which will make Oxford a fairer, safer, better place to live."