A STRATEGY to deal with a £64 million coronavirus funding gap and other social and economic problems caused by the pandemic has been agreed by Oxfordshire County Council’s leaders.

The council cabinet agreed a plan to ‘restart, recover and renew’ after the pandemic today.

The council is facing a ‘financial impact’ of £64.6m from dealing with the coronavirus outbreak, part of which is due to extra spending on services, and part of which is from loss of income.

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Part of this will be covered by a £27.2m government grant, but there are still questions about how the remaining £37.3m will be covered.

On Monday, Oxford City Council said it would probably have to delay major projects, including building new community centres, to help meet its own £9m immediate shortfall caused by the virus.

The county has not made any such announcement yet, but its recovery plan warns that if more Government help is not available, it will have to ‘take a view’ on how to deal with the shortfall.

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Council leader Ian Hudspeth said the wider aim of the new strategy was 'standing up' for residents of Oxfordshire in coming years.

He said: “We need to make sure we have a sustainable post-Covid Oxfordshire.

“There is so much we have to do, the list goes on and on but we have got to make sure we stand up for all the residents of Oxfordshire.”

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Ian Hudspeth

The council’s Labour opposition leader Liz Brighouse had raised concerns about massive funding cuts due to the pandemic, but was assured by Mr Hudspeth and finance cabinet member David Bartholomew that they would try to avoid this.

Ms Brighouse said: "In moving forward from the past five months... we need to build on the commitment of all those public sector workers who have given so much to treat and care for those suffering from the virus, those who kept us safe, those who fed us and those who continued to educate our children or were just there as a friendly voice on the end of a phone.

"That goodwill must not be squandered, and we must recognise and mend the cracks in our public services which became so visible. "

Ms Brighouse added that council staff had been 'exemplary' during the pandemic.

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The recovery plan also gives a blueprint for how the council will deal with other social issues caused by the pandemic, including how to keep track of the coronavirus at a local level, how to return children to school, how businesses will bounce back, and how people will travel around the county.

Some of the plans include speeding up measures the council had already begun to plot out.

It sets out how the county can achieve some of its goals in a ‘three-phased approach’ to the short term, the medium term and the long term, and adds that Covid-19 could become a catalyst for societal change.

On tracking the coronavirus, the report said the council would set up a local 'test and trace' effort with help from hospitals.

Mr Hudspeth said approximately £2.9 million had been awarded to the county to help pay for this.

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On education, the report said the impact of the coronavirus would be most serious for vulnerable children, and that some returning to classrooms might be in need of mental health support in the short term.

On businesses, it said the council wanted to make sure there was a ‘V-shaped’ bounce back for firms in the county by finding out which are most in need of help, and continuing to dole out government grants set up in response to the virus.

On transport, the council will commit to providing ways for people to travel safely and maintain social distancing measures.

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The council is currently spending £600,000 on quick fixes around Oxfordshire to help people walk and cycle to work instead of using their cars or sitting close together in buses where the virus can be spread.

Cabinet member for transport Yvonne Constance said the emergency funding would be part of a ‘bigger programme for transport provisions across the whole of Oxfordshire’.

Cherwell District Council is also recommended to endorse the same strategy for recovering from the economic and social problems caused by the coronavirus.

Cherwell shares many of its staff with the county council.

CORRECTION 17/06/20: This article has been updated to correct remarks made by Labour opposition leader, Liz Brighouse. In a previous version, council staff's work during the pandemic had been conflated with austerity cuts