District Councillor’s Report – January 2020

As well as being ward councillor, I’m SODC Cabinet Member for “Development and Regeneration”. Part of the council’s role is to support the local start-up business culture, increase small businesses’ resilience, and encourage increased productivity. Of the more than 13,500 small and medium enterprises in the Districts, just over a third are sole traders.

The South and Vale Economic Development team have received the Institute of Economic Development (IED) 2019 Impact Award. This national award recognised the team’s “Stronger Economy – Start-Up project”, which resulted in more than 87 new businesses start over an 18-month period.  This followed the work of the team in providing support to people who wish to start a business and/or be more productive. A number of week-long, free, pop-up business schools were held to support new and existing businesses, including a very successful one last year in Berinsfield.

At the Full Council meeting of 19th December, council voted through a number of motions relating to the future organisation of local councils, including asking for a report on the possible benefits of merging South and Vale district councils, and a report on the possible options for a council with “unitary” powers – that is, combining the responsibilities of County and District councils. The government has suggested they will be looking closely at local government reorganisation in the near future, and we wanted to state clearly that decision-making and accountability should remain at the most local level possible.

SODC’s financial situation is difficult, following years of holding down council tax to levels well below the national average and even further below that in other “shire” districts. The removal of the central government grant and drastic reduction of the New Homes Bonus have made it challenging to fund essential services, and councils have not yet been given any funding clarity from the government beyond the 2020/21 financial year.

SODC is already an efficient and low-spending council compared with its peers and has relatively low staffing numbers. Another financial pressure faced is that the “5 Councils” outsourcing contract with Capita has not delivered all of the savings promised when it was announced with a fanfare many years ago now, with many services now having to be brought back in house at the council.

Also on 19th December, council resolved to develop a prioritized plan of where new and improved cycle and walking infrastructure is needed in the district to contribute to a Strategic Active Travel Network, and to update planning policy to encourage and prioritise ‘active travel’ (walking and cycling).

Local Plan: We still don’t know precisely what will happen next to the emerging Local Plan 2034 and are awaiting further discussion with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. The minister, Robert Jenrick MP, who placed a temporary ‘holding direction’ over the emerging Local Plan in October, remains in post following the General Election, and has just written a letter to the Leader, Sue Cooper, suggesting he may use further legal powers to push through the submitted plan or ask the County Council to do so. Naturally, my personal view is that this decision should remain with the elected local planning authority (South Oxfordshire District Council), especially given that concerns about over-development played a key role in the dramatic results of the May local elections. A decision is likely in early February.

Robin.Bennett@southoxon.gov.uk

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Posted on January 17, 2020 in Events in and around Dorchester

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