District Councillor’s Report – February 2020

It’s been a busy and dramatic month at the District Council! By the time you read this we should have approved the SODC budget for 2020/21. This has been a very thorough and challenging process, going through all departments and areas of discretionary spending to find cost savings, while also seeking ways to increase income. While we cannot balance the budget in a single year, we believe we have taken significant steps towards reducing our reliance on transfers from the Council’s reserves – for the last few years, under the previous administration, these have been being used to balance the council’s budget. We also need room to invest in new initiatives, particularly around affordable housing and the climate emergency, with which we are making positive progress.

Between 2011 and 2019, the district council saw its direct grant funding from government reduced from £7.9million to zero. It was only partially replaced by retained business rates and New Homes Bonus. We only keep around 5% of the business rates collected, due to the way the formulas work, and government has signalled the end of New Homes Bonus, so the council is now in an increasingly difficult financial position and could face a funding gap of up to £6.1million by 2023/24 if no action is taken.

We should also know what will happen next to the emerging Local Plan 2034; I am, as I write this, also preparing to speak at Oxfordshire County Council, who are about to vote on whether to take over the plan and push it through inspection, if asked to do so by the Secretary of State, Robert Jenrick MP, who seems happy to override local democracy. If residents were happy with the proposed level of development in South Oxfordshire, I don’t think they would have voted in a completely new administration in May. I continue to believe a rational solution is possible, but we will see.

In other developments, initial designs for the new council office to be built at Crowmarsh have been on display to the public. It will be on the site of the old SODC offices which burned down a few years back in an arson attack. Since then, the council has been housed in expensive and unsuitable temporary accommodation at Milton Park. The new offices will aim to use renewable energy, be as low-carbon as possible, and will have a proper council chamber where meetings can be streamed live, so you can see what we are up to!

As always, feel free to get in touch with any concerns over District Council matters.

Robin.Bennett@southoxon.gov.uk tel. 01865 858680 m.07979 646815

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Posted on February 10, 2020 in Events in and around Dorchester

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