A TAX rise to help pay for the costs of Covid on Oxfordshire’s public purse has been signed off by council chiefs.

But an Oxfordshire County Council leader has stressed that the authority is mindful of the ‘hard hand of Covid’ and how it has hit household budgets in its decision.

Oxfordshire County Council’s cabinet, its most senior councillors, signed off a 2.99 per cent rise in council tax for the 2021/22 year when they met yesterday (January 19).

This will help to pay for what the council’s leader Ian Hudspeth, has billed as an ‘investment budget’ for the year ahead.

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The tax rise is the equivalent of an average household, known as band D, paying an extra £45.67 on top of the current levy, equivalent to £1,573.11 across the year.

While the county council’s portion of the tax is the largest, it is not the only rise households are likely to see, as district councils like Oxford City Council and Thames Valley Police are also considering asking residents to pay more for their services.

In Oxford for example, the average household currently pays £2,063.56 in tax over the year with all three charges totalled together.

At a meeting yesterday, the cabinet member for finance, David Bartholomew, told his fellow council chiefs: “This balanced budget for 2021/21 recognises the hard hand of Covid is squeezing many residents’ budgets.”

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Mr Bartholomew said the council had been given the option by Government of increasing tax by 4.99 per cent overall: 1.99 per cent for all services and a further 3 per cent to address the costs of adult social care.

Oxfordshire’s council staff recommended only taking advantage of part of this extra rise: 1 per cent.

But the council does have the option to add the extra 2 per cent increase to pay for social care in the year after next, 2022/23.

Oxford Mail: Oxfordshire County Hall. Picture: Google Maps.Oxfordshire County Hall. Picture: Google Maps.

Oxfordshire County Hall

The draft version of the budget plans out where and how much money will be spent on public services which Oxfordshire County Council manages, specifically in getting rid of rubbish, education, social care, and libraries.

The spending totals out at £485 million pounds and the increase in council tax is needed to pay for that.

Though the council chiefs in the cabinet have signed off on the budget, all 63 elected councillors in Oxfordshire will need to take a vote on whether or not the tax increase should be approved when they meet in February.

There are cuts in the budget totalling £19.6m, but at the same time there are investments of £25m in core services, including more support for social care.

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Some cuts and savings are due to an ongoing ‘transformation agenda’, which means the council is sharing some staff and resources with Cherwell District Council.

Others are as a result of merging management posts within some council departments.

Glynis Philips, the Labour opposition group’s member for finance, told the cabinet she had concerns about some of these management job mergers.

Ms Philips said it could ‘result in fewer people begin responsible to support larger staff teams’.

She added: “We would like assurance that local union officials have been involved in these discussions.”

Other savings are being made by not having to pay out for projects which have stalled due to Covid, including preparing services for new homes which have not yet been built.

There are also savings from staff working from home, as they are not using printers, lighting, or heating at council buildings, or claiming expenses for travel and food as often.

The council is also planning to spend an extra £4m on adult social care, and is continuing to set aside savings to prepare for the growth in the ageing population who may need care one day.