Careful and responsible financial forward planning is at the centre of Cherwell District Council’s 2022/23 budget proposals that include sustainable and resilient measures to respond to uncertainties in government funding.
In 2021/22, a combination of national and local factors came together to present significant financial challenges for the council, which resulted in needing to make savings of £4.4 million. This year, the challenge remains meaning new savings of £2.6 million are proposed for 2022/23.
Some of the cost saving proposals for next year's budget include changes to leisure centre provision and parking charge increases among others.
Longer-term issues include uncertainty around the government’s plans on resetting business rates and the New Homes Bonus Scheme, which is currently winding down, both of which could present further challenges.
Covid-19 is also continuing to have an impact across services, for example on income-generating streams such as car parking. Added to this our population continues to grow and age at one of the fastest rates in history, which puts more pressure on budgets and services.
Cllr Barry Wood, leader of Cherwell District Council, said: “We remain an ambitious authority despite Covid-19 and the budget pressures we are facing. We have invested in the long-term sustainability of the district through our redevelopment of Castle Quay in Banbury, which has continued throughout the pandemic, and our investment in Graven Hill in Bicester.
“Protecting those in need will always be our priority. But with continued budget pressures, we will need to continue to find new ways to deliver services differently and more efficiently – saving money overall, including the running costs of the council – and generating more income, all while protecting as many frontline services as we can.
“To deliver a balanced budget for 2022/23, we are planning ahead carefully and responsibly. Having careful and measured forward planning means we can be a resilient and sustainable council in the future.”
Cllr Tony Ilott, Cherwell District Council’s lead member for finance and governance, said: “Despite the chancellor’s announcement of additional funding for local government in the autumn budget, there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding many elements of it and how it will be allocated. As we move through the winter, the situation may change as our knowledge of financial support available from central government increases.
“For 2022/23 we are proposing to increase council tax by £5 per year for the average Band D property. This works out at less than 10p per week and is the maximum amount the government will currently allow.
“In the meantime, we want to hear your views on our proposals for 2022/23 to inform our decisions during the budget process. Your thoughts are important to us. We look forward to receiving your feedback.”
Detail on some of the key savings proposed
The council proposes seeking alternative options for the operation of car parks. Its contract with its existing operator (APCOA) ends soon. Future options include going out to tender for a new contract, insourcing and partnership working with Oxfordshire County Council. These could save £100,000.
An additional car parking increase of no more than 10p per hour is proposed. The council has historically kept car parking charges as low as possible and any increase would be benchmarked against the prices charged by other car park providers locally and in neighbouring towns. This could increase income by £100,000 in 2022/23 and £500,000 by 2026.
Reviewing and increasing the fees charged in a number of areas is proposed. These are: running elections on behalf of parish councils; advice given to people in advance of applying for planning permission; land searches, which is part of the home-buying legal process, and building control fees. In combination these could save £43,000.
Along with Thames Valley Police, the council currently contributes funding to a shared public space CCTV system, which has cameras in Banbury, Bicester and Kidlington. The council is not under a duty to fund public space CCTV and it is proposed to stop financial support for the network. This could save £99,000.
An improvement in recycling material prices is leading to a reduction in waste process facility charges. This is projected to save the council £300,000 in 2022/33.
The council has undertaken a post-pandemic service review of its leisure centres and proposes to reduce its subsidy to them. The reduction would lead to some changes at the district’s four leisure centres, including to service provision, while maintaining a high-quality leisure offering at each. There will be no changes to the core offers of gyms, fitness classes, and swimming. None of the leisure centres will close. More detail will emerge in due course. This could save £500,000 per year.
Realise an additional £193,000 of savings via yet more enhanced joint working with Oxfordshire County Council - building on existing and long-standing joint working between the two councils, including many joint posts.
Detail of some of the key investments proposed include:
The installation of solar panels at four commercial properties. The council would be able to sell the surplus energy generated and in this way the panels will pay for themselves over time and eventually make a small profit. The work contributes to the council's commitment to be carbon neutral by 2030. This would be a £79,000 investment.
New canopies and other market equipment are proposed to increase the attractiveness of Banbury town centre and support the vibrancy of the market and town centre economy. This would be a £15,000 investment.
The council sets its budget for 2022/23 on 28 February. People can have their say on the budget proposals between 2 December and 4 January by visiting letstalk.cherwell.gov.uk/budgetconsultation