February 2019

Welcome to our latest newsletter

We hope you enjoyed reading last month’s edition of Oxfordshire Matters, thecounty council’s newsletter for our stakeholders.

In this edition:

  • LGA Peer Review for Oxfordshire
  • Council sets budget
  • Parliamentary debate on children’s care trends
  • Councils prepare for Brexit

1.LGA review supports county council improvement

Later this month, the county council will take part in a corporate peer challenge led by a Local Government Association team of councillors and senior officers.

The peer challenge is a core element of the LGA’s sector-led improvement offer to local authorities. The LGA has been invited to carry out the review as part of the council’s overall change programme, which is focused on improving services to residents and reducing costs of service delivery.

The review will look at core local government activities including, understanding of local place, corporate priority setting and financial viability and financial planning. The county council has also asked the peer team to consider Oxfordshire-specific issues related to supporting economic growth, and private, public and voluntary sector partnerships.

The result of the review and an action plan will be considered by the Cabinet in due course, and we will update you on the review findings.

Corporate priority: listening to residents so we can continuously improve our services and provide value for money

2. Boost for youth services as council sets its budget

Children’s social care budgets will have doubled by 2023, as part of Oxfordshire County Council’s budget agreed earlier in February.
Meanwhile there’s a £1bn investment planned over the next decade for the county’s highways, school buildings and other infrastructure. Young people will benefit from improved community-run youth services via a £1m grant fund for communities to bid to for youth services over the next two years.

Council Leader Cllr Ian Hudspeth said: “We have taken difficult decisions in the past as we have to produce a balanced budget every year. Taking those tough decisions has meant we are in a more solid financial position.

“However, budgets are still tight, and the council will need to continue to change so we can improve services and free up resources needed to meet the rising demand for services – particularly for vulnerable children and adults.”

The council is budgeting for savings of £50m from changing the way services are delivered. The council has already started implementing these changes, including improving online ‘self-service’ HR and finance systems used by staff. As part of the partnership with Cherwell District Council, legal services for the two councils are being joining up.

Council Tax is to rise by 2.99 per cent in 2019/20 and 1.99 per cent in the years thereafter.
The county council’s priorities for the year are set out in the Corporate Plan, which was agreed as part of the budget. A short leaflet on the council’s services and finances has been included in the Council Tax billing by district councils at a cost of 4p per copy to print and distribute.

Corporate priority:providing value for money;giving children’s the best start in life.

3. Parliamentary debate on childrens care trends

Increasing numbers of children are coming into care across England and the associated costs were the subject of a parliamentary debate, which Children’s Services Director Lucy Butler addressed.
Lucy was invited to address the 16 MPs who sit on the Public Accounts Committee at Westminster alongside Cath McEvoy, Executive Director of Children’s Services at Northumberland County Council and Cathy Ashley, Chief Executive at Family Rights Group.

In Oxfordshire the budget for children’s social care was £46m in 2011 – but by 2023 it is forecast to be £95m.

Lucy said: “It was good to be able to discuss at length all the issues and pressures that have arisen over the last decade. Here in Oxfordshire the number of children in care has gone up by 76 per cent and other areas of the country have also risen.

“We already know that central Government is aware of the trends but the fact that this debate took place with such a level of detail meant I was able to leave the hearing confident that those in power at Westminster are aware of what we deal with at a local level”.

A link to the full debate from Monday, February 4 can be found here

Corporate priority:striving to give every child a good start in life and protecting everyone from abuse and neglect.

4. Oxfordshire named best council for tackling anti-LGBT bullying in schools

February is Lesbian, Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) month – Oxfordshire County Council has been named the joint best council in the country for tackling anti-LGBT bullying in schools by the charity Stonewall. Meanwhile, Oxfordshire County Council Fire and Rescue Service is celebrating diversity by proudly flying LGBT’s rainbow flag over its headquarters in Kidlington.

Simon Furlong, Chief Fire Officer for Oxfordshire County Council Fire and Rescue Service, said: “For me, diversity covers many areas, such as gender, age, race, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity. If our personnel represent the community, we will better understand local issues. In turn, we’ll be able to enhance community relationships, break down barriers, and deliver the right service and advice at the right time, with the right outcome.”

Corporate priority: listening to residents so we can continuously improve our services

5. Oxfordshire councils prepare for Brexit

Agencies including all six of Oxfordshire’s councils have been working together to prepare for when the UK leaves the EU at the end of March.

Although there is national uncertainty about the short-term impact of Brexit, Oxfordshire will be well prepared. Short-term risks to public safety and normal daily life have been assessed as ‘low’ by emergency planners in Oxfordshire.

Public bodies are working closely together, including councils, the emergency services and NHS. Potential risks are being monitored and information shared.

Chief Fire Officer Simon Furlong said: “Proportionate planning is underway to manage risks and take opportunities identified, including public services, utilities and transport. There are already plans in place to cover most of possible types of short-term disruption that have been identified.

“Potential risks to vulnerable people have been identified and are being mitigated, for instance by working with care providers to ensure plans are in place to respond to disruptions to staffing availability or the supply chain”.

“Oxfordshire has a strong local economy that means it is relatively well placed to deal with any immediate economic change from leaving the EU. That said, we recognise concerns expressed by local employers about issues such as supply chain and staffing. We have contacted the government in relation to Oxfordshire’s science and innovation sector.”

Corporate priority: listening to residents so we can continuously improve our services

6. Most Oxfordshire children offered first choice secondary despite excpetional demand

Parents and children across Oxfordshire have been offered their first choice of secondary school for 2019/20 in the vast majority of cases despite an exceptional year for applications and disruption caused by delays in being able to confirm the opening of the Swan School in Oxford.

A total of 86 per cent of applications have been awarded their first choice – a figure that has the potential to rise further if the Swan School is able to open its doors in September. A total of 94 per cent have been awarded one of the three choices they listed on their application.

Approximately 400 more applications have been received for secondary schools this year compared to last year – making the total of applications 7,300. Last year 89 per cent of applications were awarded first choice. The national average for 2018/19 was 82 per cent.

Councillor Lorraine Lindsay-Gale, Oxfordshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Education and Cultural Services, said: “Our school admissions team have done an excellent job in ensuring that so many parents and children have been offered their first choice despite this being an exceptionally difficult year. I am grateful to them for the hard work they’ve done.”

A number of schools have expanded where necessary but this was always likely to be a year of exceptionally high demand for Year 7 places – the delays in the opening of the Swan School in Oxford have compounded this.

If it can open in September, the proposed Swan School would offer 120 Year 7 places required to meet basic need for places in Oxford this year. It will not be confirmed whether Central Government has cleared the school to open until late March/early April at the earliest.

Since 2011 more than 6,000 new places have been created in Oxfordshire secondary schools – excluding extra capacity that will be created at the Swan School. Further planned changes in the 2020s will see the overall number of school places created since 2011 rise to around 8,000.

Corporate priority:striving to give every child a good start in life

Oxfordshire County Council consultations

The county council believes it is important to consult its stakeholder groups and residents when planning, managing and delivering its services.

To view all of Oxfordshire County Council’s current consultations, the results of consultations that have closed; consultations by the city and district councils, the clinical commissioning group and central government please visit:https://www.oxfordshire.gov.uk/cms/public-site/consultation

Major transport projects latest

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