Ensuring financial sustainability is the long-term goal as South Oxfordshire District Council continues to save money, increase income and deliver services more efficiently.

This month councillors will be asked to approve South Oxfordshire’s 2022/23 budget.   Despite having one of the lowest council tax rates in the country, increased costs from Covid-19, and a reduction in funding from government, the council continues to maintain its valued public services, save costs and work more effectively.

The council has saved £1.5 million over the last year, and moving services, such as HR and Finance, back in-house, as well as innovative forward thinking plans for a joint Local Plan and a joint design guide with neighbouring Vale of White Horse District Council, will help to save money across district boundaries.

This year, up to £5 million secured from developers will go towards providing truly affordable houses including some that the council can rent to help ensure a safe and secure place to live for those who could never pay for “affordable” housing as defined by the government.

The council will also jump-start priority aims that were impacted or delayed by Covid.  A one-off investment of £500,000 will help to fund projects which could include, for example, tree and hedge planting, promoting green skills and businesses, and cleaning up our built environment. This locally focused “Build Back Better” strategy will help to tackle climate change at a local level.

Some £500,000 community grant funding will also support projects such as new or replacement community buildings, sports and play areas, the installation of solar panels, defibrillators, or volunteer training.

Cllr Leigh Rawlins, Cabinet Member for Finance at South Oxfordshire District Council, said: “As a council we have worked very hard to reduce our costs and work more effectively.  Ensuring financial sustainability will take time and is not something that we can do in one year.  However, we are in a much more positive position than we were previously.  We know we are heading in the right direction and I’m very pleased that we are doing so while maintaining and improving our public services.

“While we work to improve our financial position, we will continue to do what we can to support our communities.  Our proposed 2022/23 budget will help to improve local facilities, boost efforts to tackle the climate emergency and help to ensure that people have safe places to live.”

More about the 2022/23 budget:

South Oxfordshire is a proven low-cost operator but has one of the lowest council tax rates in the country for a district council. This legacy severely restricts the council’s ability to raise additional funds needed to cover costs. For years this has caused an annual deficit – which the council is striving to reduce. This year the council will increase its levy by £5* for an average Band D property, so for 2022/23, residents will pay a Band D rate of £136.24.

*Under the proposed council tax referendum principles for 2022/23, district councils can raise council tax by no more than two per cent or £5, whichever is greater, or they will need to hold a costly referendum on the increase.

Unlike many other councils, South Oxfordshire does not benefit significantly from the business rates retention scheme, which allows councils to keep a proportion of the rates paid by businesses their area to help pay for local services.  The council will benefit from £2 million “New Homes Bonus” in 2022/23 as part of the government’s funding for the year but beyond the current financial year there is no clarity from the government on future funding levels.  If funding levels fall then action may be needed to protect vital services.

For more information on the 2022/23 budget please see the council meeting agenda for Thursday 17 February.