Much of my time is taken up with preparing and developing the budget that will be discussed (and, I hope, approved) at the County Council meeting in February.
There are intense pressures on the finances of all local authorities. Funding from central government has been cut in real terms each year for the past decade, and permitted rises in council tax are lower than inflation. There are additional pressures from demographic changes, with many more older people, and with increase in demands on children’s service particularly in areas like support for young people with special educational needs. The rise in the national living wage is welcome but has an added impact for our services.
There will be an iterative process in which proposals will be scrutinised, the public will be consulted, and we will discover in the autumn statement later this month and the annual “settlement” announced in late December what money will be available.
The Aston to Ducklington road has been repaired, with the edges replaced and strengthened. This was achieved in the timescale advertised in advance. Thank you for your patience while the work was done. I wish we could repair more roads in such a thorough way, but as the cost was around £900,000, you may be able to see why this isn’t possible.
You will also have seen that the A40 has been resurfaced around Cassington and that the A40 bike lanes have been scraped to make them a useable width again.
The recent collision in Barnard Gate was the latest in many. I am in discussions with the highways team about what we can do here to make the junction safe.
I’d like to share advance warning that there is a planned closure of the road between Standlake and Stanton Harcourt/Northmoor from 6-8 December between 9.30am and 3.30pm each day. This is for bridge work.
The road from Cassington to Yarnton has now reopened. The road had been closed for work by Network Rail to repair the bridge damaged in a landslide a few months ago.
There is an issue throughout Oxfordshire with the maintenance of paths that are technically highways but have no cars. In Eynsham, Pug Lane is an example of this. I have raised how paths such as this get looked after and how the team responds to reports on FixMyStreets, and will report back, I trust with improvements.
Reducing disruption caused by utilities & developers
The County’s new plan for charging an increased daily fee of £2,500 (instead of the £300 fixed fee) to utility companies that dig up major roads is being consulted on. By law, it is restricted to 5% of Oxfordshire’s roads and so will focus on busy, critical parts of the network. Surplus funds will be reinvested. The Department for Transport is encouraging all councils to adopt schemes like this. Many of the roadworks in the county are instigated by utilities companies, and we want them to be completed quickly.
Oxfordshire tops the table for county councils tackling climate change: Oxfordshire was deemed the best performing county council in the UK on climate change by the Climate Emergency UK climate action scorecard. That is absolutely not a reason for complacency.
Although we are only just after half term in the autumn of 2023, applications are now open for new primary school pupils starting in September 2024. Applications should be done online: www.oxfordshire.gov.uk/primaryadmissions
If anyone moves to the area during the year, there are in-year placements. One of the things that gave most joy recently was helping the parents of a young person who had just moved to the UK to get their child into Eynsham Primary School within a few weeks of arrival.
People have been shocked by events in Israel and Palestine, and haven’t forgotten that there are conflicts continuing in other parts of the world too, including Sudan and Ukraine. There are many people in Oxfordshire who are directly connected to these places and are worried about their friends and family. There is no place for intolerance in our county.
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