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Tuesday, 21 July 2009



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CABINET – 21 JULY 2009





Report by the Leader of the Council


Introduction by the Leader of the Council


1.                  I write this report having been re-elected as a councillor by my division and as Leader of the Council by the Annual Meeting of Council. As a continuing Conservative administration we will build on the direction that we have set in the last four years. This means that we will continue to focus on Oxfordshire’s economy, continue to safeguard our communities and continue to develop Oxfordshire as a welcoming place to work, live and visit.


2.                  The underlying objectives of low taxes, real choice and value for money will remain at the heart of the council’s work over the next four years. Beyond this, we were elected on a manifesto of seven key pledges. It is vital that we turn these pledges into action. This report sets out how we will transform the pledges into service objectives, which will then feed in to the council’s Service and Resource planning process.


3.                  The county council is rated as ‘good and improving well’ by the Audit Commission but we are not complacent and we will continue to strive for further improvement in everything we do. We will have to cope with the challenges of growth, demographic change and Government constraints.  The coming years will be difficult for the public sector as a whole and local government in particular, but we will strive to support our excellent workforce in delivering excellent customer service and value for money.


Implementing our seven key pledges


‘We will freeze Council Tax under a Conservative Government’


4.                  This is a difficult time for residents, businesses and organisations. Local government is no different and we will find the coming years particularly challenging. However, as an Administration we understand the pressures that Oxfordshire residents are under and we hope to ease the burden.


5.                  David Cameron has announced that, should the Conservative Party win the next general election, a Conservative government would work with local government to freeze Council Tax for two years. This would be achieved by local authorities containing costs so council tax would be no greater that 2.5% and then the Government would provide funds to reduce Council tax from 2.5 % to zero. We will work with government to freeze Council Tax and make sure that residents get value for money from their services.


6.                  Despite the constraints on public sector finances in the medium term, we want to protect vital front line services. Our underlying financial position is strong and we will look to further streamline our business to maximise cost effectiveness.


‘We will support our local economy’


7.                  We have taken action to help mitigate the impact of the recession:


·        We responded swiftly to support workers following job losses at BMW;

·        We supported local retailers by making the Park and Ride buses free leading up to Christmas;

·        we are continuing to promote opportunities for local businesses to sell goods and services to the council;

·        In the longer term, we hope to invest in and expand Job Clubs modelled on the successful scheme in Banbury.


8.                  Our ambition is to ensure that Oxfordshire’s economy and local businesses in particular, are well placed when the recession ends. We will:


·        Continue to pay our local suppliers quickly to help maintain their cash flow;

·        Examine the needs of the local economy and support market towns to preserve their strengths;

·        Provide support to start up and small businesses;

·        Support innovation and growth with partner organisations;

·        Promote Oxfordshire as a place to invest;

·        Promote the visitor economy to help support local trade;

·        Use the statutory requirement for a local Economic Assessment to drive our evidence base and use it to help identify where support is needed locally;

·        Identify skill gaps in Oxfordshire and help people to develop new skills and enhance their career prospects.


9.                  We want to grow Oxfordshire’s economy by supporting our strong science and technology base. We will endeavour to make sure that growth in Oxfordshire’s economy is not achieved by destroying the quality of the environment.


10.             Effective strategic planning is key to our growth strategy. With the dissolution of the South East England Regional Assembly, local authority leaders from across the South East will work with the Regional Development Agency to develop an Integrated Regional Strategy. Our team will work hard to ensure that Oxfordshire and other counties in the South East lead the country out of recession.


11.             We are continuing to develop our Apprenticeships scheme to help young people develop skills and careers through a scheme based at the council. We already have programmes in Social Care, Administration, Outdoor Education and Civil Engineering and are looking to expand into further areas in the coming months.  We will be looking to double the numbers of Council apprenticeships by October 2010 (from 27 to 54) subject to LSC funding to support the programme.


12.             We also hope to work with Government on delivering traineeships in the care sector, with 50,000 places proposed nationally. We will examine this more closely when details emerge from the Government.


‘We will make it easier to get around Oxfordshire’


13.             We will look at our services and make sure that they are delivered as locally as possible. We have already moved to an area-based structure for our Children, Young People & Families directorate.


14.             Secondly, we want it easier to travel around Oxfordshire. Last year, we began the Transform Oxford project to improve the pedestrian experience in the city. Action is underway to relocate bus stops and reduce bus flow by about a third in Queen Street. These changes will increase pedestrian space and improve air quality. This will be followed by the pedestrianisation of George Street and Magdalen Street and the redesign of Frideswide Square. There is ongoing negotiation with bus operators to allow a Quality Partnership Scheme. This would enable joint ticketing and timetabling as well as greater control over the quality of vehicles.


15.             The Access to Oxford project will make improvements to Oxford Railway Station and by active traffic management we will tackle congestion and queuing problems at the junctions between the A34 and the ring road, as well as on the A34 itself. Congestion will be addressed in the north of the city at Wolvercote, Pear Tree and Cutteslowe roundabouts; and in the south at Heyford Hill, Kennington and Hinksey Hill roundabouts.


16.             We continue to challenge the Highways Agency to improve Junctions 9 and 10 on the M40. Junction 9 is key to the future development of Bicester. Funding has recently been announced by the Highways Agency for minor improvements to Junction 9 but much more is required. Junction 10 suffers from a serious design fault which needs correction. We will continue to use all means at our disposal to fight for these vital improvements.


17.             Improvements planned elsewhere in the county include the Cogges Link Road in Witney (over £16 million of investment from 2009/10 onwards), £750,000 of investment in Bicester Town Centre in 2010/11 and almost £800,000 in Abingdon from 2009-11.


18.             Finally, we are starting to develop a new long term Local Transport Plan to be implemented from 2011. We will offer the public the chance to have their say and help us to improve the movement of traffic around the county.


‘We will promote safer and greener communities’


19.             We must face the fact that while crime and anti-social behaviour may be low in Oxfordshire in terms of statistics, fear of crime is too high. We want to address this. We plan to increase our scrutiny of the police’s response to crime and disorder and to challenge any inconsistency of approach or poor performance.


20.             We remain proud of our Fire Service, one of the highest rated services in the country. We will maintain the standard of this service and continue to support fire fighters in their demanding role.


21.             The council wants to promote self-help in the community, whether this is shop keepers sweeping the streets in front of their shops; encouraging volunteers to support their local community; or the community as a whole taking greater responsibility for local issues. We will look at community self help opportunities as part of our ‘safer and stronger’ ambitions.


22.             Over the life of the administration, we will promote community-led planning and help members of the public to articulate and implement the changes they want to see happen in their communities.


23.             We will continue to work to reduce energy consumption and the council’s carbon footprint. We are revising our strategy and action plan to reflect the Government’s Carbon Reduction Commitment and to respond to carbon taxation.


‘We will protect our environment and heritage’


24.             We remain opposed to the Weston Otmoor eco-town proposal. In particular, we feel that the transport proposals are fundamentally flawed and are concerned about the negative impact on the economy of Bicester should the Weston Otmoor development go ahead.


25.              Our over-arching aim is to deliver sustainable economic and community development which makes prudent use of resources and respects or improves the environment.


26.             We will continue to support the work of the new trust in developing Cogges Manor Farm, though we recognise that the council cannot continue to provide long term revenue support for the museum.


27.             We will continue to play our part in supporting local people and communities with initiatives such as the Cowley Road Festival and support for returning military personnel. We believe such initiatives are an essential part of supporting communities in Oxfordshire.


28.             Flooding remains a concern. We will work with partners to implement sustainable drainage and other measures to reduce the likely future impact of any further flooding.


‘We will improve opportunities for young people’


29.             The Chill Out fund provides £200,000 per year to increase opportunities for our young people. In 2008/09 we have match funded a variety of projects including the ‘Dip and Chill’ sessions at Chipping Norton Lido, the Leys skate park in Witney, the Summerscreen festival to be held in the Westgate Centre, activities for young people in a group of villages in southern Oxfordshire and creative courses for unemployed young people to help them into work.


30.             We are heavily investing in improvements in our youth sites. This includes over £1.5 million in our youth centres over the next two years, as part of plans to improve opportunities for young people at Wallingford, Witney and Berinsfield.


31.             We are also investing almost £7 million in our Children’s centres over the next two years. Through this we will continue to offer children under five and their families, whatever their background or circumstances, all the services they need to thrive and make the most of life’s opportunities.


32.             The Success project brings together various strands of work designed to help those young people who are at risk of underachieving; to manage their behaviour better, fully attend school and avoid getting into trouble. Through schools and our services working more closely together we expect to see improvements in exam results and employment prospects for our most vulnerable children.


33.             We are investing in more social workers to support vulnerable children. We are also introducing a training scheme for newly qualified staff so that they are able to learn from more experienced colleagues before taking on the full demands of the job. Combined with additional administrative support, this will help social workers in their difficult role.


34.             We are developing our service to keep children safe by closely focusing services around the individual and concentrating on early intervention and prevention. The ‘Team around the Child’ initiative and the FACEIT (Family and Children Earlier Intervention Team) service will support young people who need help but who do not meet the criteria for specialist services. We will make sure that these schemes improve opportunities for the individual children, young people and families in need.


35.             The Building Schools for the Future programme offers a major opportunity to transform the way in which Oxfordshire pupils learn and the buildings in which they study. We want to make the best use of funding available, to the benefit of Oxfordshire’s secondary schools


36.             We identified £4.2 million in our February 2009 budget for investment in this programme. Over the lifetime of the 15-20 year programme, our bid could mean up to £400 million to invest in Oxfordshire’s schools or £10 million per school. This would enable schools to reshape how education is delivered in Oxfordshire. We are now ranked in the top third of authorities waiting to deliver the programme, meaning building is likely to start earlier in the life of the programme. Officers are now preparing the final details of our internal arrangements to support the programme.


37.             The Primary Capital Programme will help us upgrade some of Oxfordshire’s primary schools, many in areas of high deprivation. In the next five years over £61 million will be allocated to improving Oxfordshire’s primary schools.


38.             We will continue to work with head teachers and governing bodies to drive up performance in GCSE results. While our results are in line with the national average, we expect Oxfordshire schools to do better. Our aim is to be in the top 25% of schools for attainment by 2014.


39.             The two academies in Oxfordshire (North Oxfordshire and the Oxford Academy) are already improving the quality of education for young people attending those schools. We believe that academies can deliver the levels of investment and cultural change needed to improve schools in difficult situations and we will act in other areas if necessary.


40.             Finally, we will modernise our special schools. Through the development of 16-19 provision, greater choice will be available for pupils.


‘We will improve services for older people’


41.             Transforming Adult Social Care is a major project for this council and is part of our wider agenda for more choice and improved quality of service for the individual. We have just launched our Self Directed Support scheme which is aimed at helping individuals plan their own support and so decide exactly what is important to them as an individual. As the project develops, we will reshape the supply market; improve community development; improve the quality of information and access to adult social care; and shift the focus towards early intervention and prevention.


42.             An ageing population and increasing numbers of people with learning disabilities will increase pressure on services. Over the next 4 years we are investing an additional £35 million on critical Older People and Learning Disabilities services to deal with these pressures. We continue to work very closely with the health service, building on the exemplary partnership working with the NHS that exists in Oxfordshire.


43.             The council is proud of its Resource Centre in Bicester. This offers a fantastic level of choice, learning, independence and social interaction for our vulnerable adults. Another Resource Centre, in Witney, was formally opened by David Cameron in July 2009. The Resource Centre in Witney sits alongside new day centres for adults with mental health problems and adults with learning disabilities.  Resource Centres will open in Abingdon next summer, in Oxford (at Shotover) shortly afterwards and then in Banbury.


Focusing on localities

44.             As Leader of the Council, I am personally strongly committed to supporting members in the local leadership role and happy to do what I can to support individual members.


45.             I believe the County Council needs increasingly to focus on localities, working across council directorates and service areas to address local needs.


46.             There is an important role for all elected members to act as leaders of their communities. Where a County Council Division is part of a larger urban locality, some members may wish to work in partnership with other elected members to provide leadership for that whole locality. 


47.             Cooperation with district, town and parish councillors is also important and, again, it is not for the County Council to try to create prescribed relationships but to support them where they evolve locally.


48.             Although I am very clear that the County Council must serve and be seen to serve all parts of the county equally and fairly, I have some personal high priority areas that I would wish to share in terms of locality working:


(i)                 Bicester:  Bicester has a well-developed Bicester Vision and the partnership of town, district, county, business and community interests that is promoting the Vision could well be a good model for other localities. If the North West Bicester eco-town gets the go ahead, this presents both an opportunity and a challenge to a town that desperately needs to strengthen its economic offer.

(ii)               Abingdon:  During the County Council election campaign, we published a Vision for Abingdon. This was a careful analysis of the town’s needs and contained some serious suggestions for strengthening Abingdon economically and as a community. I hope the Vale of White Horse District Council and Abingdon Town Councils will be willing to work with the County Council, with local businesses and the Abingdon community to improve the social, economic and environmental well being of Abingdon. I know Abingdon County Councillors are keen to move forward on this.

(iii)             Didcot:  Didcot has taken significant housing growth over the years and has seen some benefit in terms of infrastructure investment. However, more needs to be done. It is part of the Science Vale UK economic area that contains so much promise with Milton Park and Harwell as close neighbours. Continuing Didcot’s successful renaissance will require close working with the Vale of White Horse and South Oxfordshire District Councils as well as the business sector and local community organizations. Again, the local members have a clear mandate from their electorate and are anxious to work together for Didcot’s betterment.

(iv)              Carterton:  Carterton has also seen significant growth over the years and has RAF Brize Norton as its close neighbour. The County Council has successfully developed a stronger relationship with the military in Oxfordshire. This is particularly important for Carterton where the scale of operations at RAF Brize Norton has a considerable impact on the town. I hope close working with Carterton Town Council, West Oxfordshire District Council, County Councillors in and close to Carterton, RAF Brize Norton and the local business community can help to develop Carterton as a thriving and cohesive community with adequate infrastructure to meet its needs.

(v)                Banbury:  Banbury is placed well to the north of the County and faces towards the West and East Midlands as much as it is part of Oxfordshire.  Taken with its surrounding villages, it represents a significant economic area with some thriving businesses and its own district general hospital. There are social, economic and environmental issues that need addressing and that call for close working with the Town Council and Cherwell District Council as well as local Parish Councils, businesses and voluntary sector organizations. With the majority of County Councillors also being district and town councilors, a spirit of close and harmonious working must surely be a sine qua non?   

(vi)              Oxford City:  Our University City is the capital city of our County and it goes without saying that it requires careful attention, working closely with the City Council. As the County City, Oxford belongs to all of Oxfordshire’s citizens and it is incumbent on us to ensure that it thrives economically, is socially cohesive and remains the jewel in Oxfordshire’s crown.

49.             I do not want the fact that I have listed six localities above to imply that I do not value the myriad of towns, villages and hamlets that make up Oxfordshire but are not included above. I repeat that these six are in my list of personal priorities for the reasons that I have stated and I have a personal commitment to promote their causes and to support their local members.




50.             We have set out how we will deliver services to the people of Oxfordshire over the next four years. We welcome comments on our proposals and will ask residents what they think of our plans when the next budget planning cycle begins.




51.             The Cabinet is RECOMMENDED to:


(a)               Endorse the report;

(b)              Receive further reports on the specific items for information.



Councillor Keith R Mitchell CBE

Leader of the Council


Background papers:            Nil


09 July 2009


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