As we start the new local government year there have been a few changes to Cabinet positions at County Hall. Cllr Tim Bearder moves to Adult Social Care (formerly in charge of Highways Maintenance), while Cllr Andrew Gant joins the cabinet to take on the Highways portfolio. Cllr Neil Fawcett stepped down from the Cabinet, with Cllr Jenny Hannaby is taking on the Community Services position (which includes libraries, fire & rescue, and Gypsy & traveller services). Cllr Liz Leffman remains leader of the Council.
As Andrew Gant has become a Cabinet member, he has stopped being cycling champion. I am pleased to say that I have stepped into the breach and become Cycling, Walking and Active Travel Champion. One of my key tasks is to ensure that places outside the city get their fair share of attention when it comes to improving active travel facilities. Among other responsibilities, I will now chair the Vision Zero group, which brings together highways officers and activists to design danger out of our roads. The group was set up after the recent, tragic fatalities in Oxford.
A new Oxfordshire food strategy has been drawn up with a focus on fair access to good quality, sustainably produced food. Statistics tell us that 9-14% of Oxfordshire residents experience food insecurity. Priority areas for action include reducing food poverty and diet ill-health, strengthening local food supply chains, and improving institutional catering (such as in schools). We know that even in apparently affluent areas, including this part of West Oxfordshire, there are pockets of deep poverty.
The Cabinet has approved plans which could see its own carbon emissions almost halved by 2024/25! There have also been approvals for plans to decarbonise the County Council’s estate and operations by 2030 and transition Oxfordshire to net zero ahead of the national target of 2050.
One of the main projects contributing to cutting emissions is the conversion of Oxfordshire’s streetlights to low-energy LED lighting. Nearly half have so far been changed as part of a £40m project which will save council taxpayers £77m over a 20-year period.
The County Council has won another government bid, securing £10.4m for active travel schemes. This brings the total fund for bus and active travel schemes brought in by the Oxfordshire Fair Deal Alliance to over £55m.
The £10.4m will mainly be directed towards improving Witney High Street, with some also helping to progress a design study for the B4044. Clearly a lot more money is needed and there is some frustration that the Government has dictated what the money must be spent on rather than leaving spending decisions to those with local knowledge.
Adult social care
The County Council has called on the Government to fund adult social care properly rather than pushing yet more costs onto local taxpayers. The changes brought in by the Government could double the number of people eligible for financial support. Lib Dem Finance Cabinet member, Cllr Calum Miller, has said money from Government ‘doesn’t even come close’ to covering the cost needs.
When the Government demands councils spend more money on adult social care – without providing any additional funding – it results in rising rates and money being diverted away from funding other key areas, such as roads or libraries.
There is still no date for the A40 planning meeting, but it can’t be far off. The bulk of the design work has been done although there may still be some minor amendments, for instance, details on how to manage traffic noise better.
I visited the Oxford North section of the A40 with the Cabinet member for Travel and Development Strategy and the local County Councillors and key officers recently. Improvements will be made to the cycle tracks there, which will make the route safer and more direct.
The Transport Policy is being developed at pace. The new Local Transport and Connectivity Plan will be issued for consultations soon. This will be followed by a new Freight Strategy which will endeavour to keep HGVs out of most residential areas, where feasible.
You may have heard that planning permission has be granted for the work on Conduit Lane. I continue to try and make it happen urgently.
As you will be aware, there were elections for new district councillors on 5 May. There is now a new administration with the same political membership mix as the County Council: an alliance of Liberal Democrats, Labour and Greens. The Leader of the Council is Andy Graham, while I have the privilege and challenge of being the Cabinet Member for Finance. We are keen to make a quick start in improving the services delivered to residents and start working more effectively with partners, including other councils and community groups.
You can read more from the District Council in an update from Cllr Carl Rylett.
As ever, I can be contacted by email or phone at any time.