Council discovers surprise surplus

News

A review of Oxford City Council’s budget, due to be voted on later this month, has uncovered an £800,000 surplus in council funding that will save several council services and 30 jobs.

Ed Turner, Deputy Leader of the Council, which has been Labour-controlled since last year’s elections, said a small amount of money came from an “overly pessimistic calculation” concerning government grants and a more substantial amount from changes resulting from the government’s recent alterations to pension plans.

He added: “Our three big priorities are safeguarding jobs, protecting front line services and protecting the most vulnerable members of our community. We have tried to fit all the changes [in the budget] into these areas.”

Despite this significant surplus, the Council must still find £9m savings in its £28million annual budget as part of central government’s decrease in local-level funding. Turner stressed that “Oxford City Council is being hammered by government funding cuts” and said that “although in a handful of cases, we’ve been able to pull back from some of the worst cuts, it’s only a few changes at the margins”.

The leader of the Opposition for the council, Stephen Brown, welcomed the news and criticized Labour for exaggerated pessimism: “As Lib Dems, it is reassuring to see that the situation, which in our judgement has been exaggerated by the Labour administration, is not as bad as everyone thinks. It’s definitely good news.”

Initial savings calculations last year suggested 100 Council staff would face redundancy, but this figure has been revised to 70. The Council has not disclosed which departments are likely to benefit.

The Deputy Leader said funding for several threatened services is likely to be secured in the future, which could save certain schemes from being completely scrapped.

The Housing Advice Service, which provides information regarding accommodation in association with the charity Shelter, faced closure after less than two years of operations. Turner said it would now continue to run in the city.

A scheme offering free swimming to under-17s, which the council had pioneered two years before its national introduction, will also receive extra funding. According to Bob Timbs, City Executive Board Member for Leisure Partnerships, cuts were made following the national withdrawal of grants for the scheme in 2010. The scheme was only maintained with severely restricted hours and locations.

After the review, however, there are proposals “to increase the funding and if agreed by full council, we will then allocate a few more hours spread over the city pools”.

A £70,000 cut in the Community Centres expenditure, which Turner said “would have probably approximated to the closure of two centres”, has been reversed.

Bill Baker, the Chairman of the Oxford Federation of Community Associations, said he was “delighted” that local communities will continue to benefit from a variety of projects at these centres, which range from ‘Humpty Dumpty’ clubs for young children and dance classes to aerobics lessons and Bingo sessions. He added that if this surplus had not been found, “all was going to be lost”.

Turner also said that schools in East Oxford and Littlemore are in line to receive a part of the funds to maintain holiday activities, and plans to introduce a fee for holding street parties are likely to be scrapped.

The full Council is scheduled to meet on 21st February to vote on the revised budget.