Renowned universities. World-class hospitals. An incredible innovation base. A cutting-edge low carbon agenda. Thinking London, Birmingham or Manchester? Think again. When it comes to potential and global reach, Oxford punches far above its weight. With pioneering tech and science, wonderful history, attractive environment, diverse communities and a vibrant cultural scene, Oxford generates a world of exciting possibilities.
With success comes challenges. Lack of land for housing and employment, transport infrastructure that is at full capacity, and major skills gaps threaten to constrain the city’s growth potential. The housing crisis is causing increasing hardship for many people in the city, particularly the most vulnerable and least well paid. For many of our residents Oxford offers great opportunities for work and leisure. But there are major inequalities in residents’ life chances and life expectancy. People in the most deprived areas can expect to live on average 10 – 15 years fewer than those in the more affluent areas. Educational attainment in Oxford’s state schools is below the national average and a fifth of Oxford’s children live in poverty.
COVID-19 has of course had a severe impact on the local economy and on our communities, and without intervention is set to exacerbate and worsen inequalities. Historic near full employment will change in short to medium term into higher unemployment, particularly impacting on the lower earners, younger people and those already disadvantaged.
The City Council is ambitious for the city’s future, determined to build on its strengths and address these challenges. The council has set clear priorities, targets and actions to achieve them in its Corporate Strategy 2020-24. We’ve set ourselves some ambitious aims: becoming a zero carbon city, transforming the city’s transport system, building high quality, affordable housing, securing investment in ambitious development and regeneration plans and creating a more inclusive economy. We’re also passionate about celebrating our diversity and making Oxford a place where everyone feels a sense of identity and belonging and is able to thrive.
COVID-19 has resulted in significant disruption to businesses, residents, communities and the delivery of public services. For the council that meant changes that would normally be months and years in the planning, being implemented in a matter of days and weeks. The Council’s response was outstanding. Services were adjusted, staff redeployed to support new areas of demand – and new service models to support vulnerable people were implemented almost overnight. The disruption is ongoing and we continue to work with partners in health, other local authorities, voluntary sector and key institutions to respond as the situation develops. The longer term impact on the city is yet to be felt or fully understood but will continue to place pressure and demand on the organisation as we continue supporting our communities and support economic recovery.
As we move forward our aim is to embed and build on positive changes that have emerged from our response to the pandemic, from the way we work across the council, to the work that we do with our communities, volunteers and other partners. We will capitalise on opportunities for transformation in our services to deliver improved value for money and customer focused outcomes. This includes shifting to a more locality hub-based working model. This will involve integration of community-facing teams with a community and citizen focus improving outcomes for vulnerable people; making a fundamental change in how we deal with homelessness and rough sleeping, building on success from “Everyone In”; capturing opportunities from economic recovery work to support an inclusive economy and enhancing environmental benefits and improvements to the public realm wherever we can.
The financial impact on the council has been significant. As the council no longer receives base revenue grant funding from government, our model relies on income we generate to reinvest in services. The major sources of that income are from car parking fees, city centre property, from the councils’ housing and direct services companies and these have all been hit hard by the pandemic. This is in addition to expected reductions in business rates and council tax income as well as new service pressures. In total this impact is estimated at a £29m deficit over the next 5 years. In February the council agreed a Budget and Mid Term Financial Strategy which will put the Council’s finances on an even keel with use of reserves and £9.5m efficiencies and additional income to avoid reductions to frontline services.
Ensuring delivery of the programme of transformation and investment projects identified in the budget to secure the council’s financial future is therefore a key focus for the leadership team. Equally important is the successful delivery of the companies’ business plans, as the returns and dividends are key to the financial success of the council and ensuring effective governance, clienting and monitoring of the companies will be an ongoing focus.
To achieve our aims, we need to be responsible, reliable, adaptable and innovative as an organisation. We need to think and act strategically and at pace, actively engaging citizens in helping us make the decisions that impact them. We recognise the value of a diverse workforce and of creating the culture and environment that brings out the best in our people. To support this is a comprehensive people strategy that is focused on promoting inclusion, developing leadership, nurturing talent and ensuring our people are highly motivated, high-performing, and business-efficient delivering the best outcomes to the people of Oxford.
We cannot achieve our aims without our partners and recognise the importance of developing and maintaining strong and influential relationships to shape our services and secure the best outcomes for the city. We are working with the universities, businesses and communities to tackle underlying causes of inequality; the county council and health partners to reduce health inequalities; Oxford colleges and joint venture partners to deliver our ambitious capital programme, and finally with institutions, businesses and citizens to secure a zero carbon future, support recovery and position Oxford as a place to invest. Partnership is at the heart of everything we do.