Combining sound financial management with bold creative thinking: Council unveils robust Three-Year Plan to secure vital services, protect the vulnerable and deliver value for money for the people of Cheshire East – while nurturing economic growth
The Council has unveiled its three-year plan to secure vital services, protect the vulnerable and continue to deliver value for money for the people of Cheshire East – while nurturing economic growth.
In his report to Cabinet, Cheshire East Council Leader Councillor Michael Jones revealed Council Tax will be frozen for the third year running – and the following year (2014/15).
He also announced the authority would deliver robust, balanced budgets for the next three years. A radical shake-up of Council management will also boost its efficiency and effectiveness – and save £5m a year by 2015, by reducing the number of management posts by a quarter.
As part of its commitment to growing the economic prosperity of Cheshire East, the Council plans a capital programme in excess of £220m over three years and aims to secure the creation of 27,000 new homes.
The decision to freeze Council Tax comes despite continued reductions in government grants, increasing cost pressures and changes to the Council’s funding arrangements.
Compared with the majority of English local authorities, Cheshire East Council will continue to provide good value for money, with low spending per head and a low reliance on government grants.
The Cheshire East Band D Council Tax remains unchanged at £1,216.34. A total of £12.6m Council Tax freeze grant will be used over two years to support Council reforms to deliver frontline services with reduced grants from central government.
Councillor Michael Jones said: “The three-year financial strategy set out here by me and my Cabinet is based on taking some tough decisions in difficult times to ensure a good quality of life for the people of Cheshire East.
“I believe that responsible councils don’t do generic Council Tax increases. What you pay for is what you get.
“We recognise that if we are to realise our ambitions to make Cheshire East a better place to live, work and do business, we need a new medium-term financial strategy that will make the best of our limited resources and provide real value for local people.
“That is why we have set out clear principles that will guide our policy-led decision making over where to find savings and cut costs, while also investing in necessary improvements in our vital services and their delivery.
“Our key principles that underpin budget decisions are: being policy-led in our decisions and sticking to them; making decisions based on evidence of need and what works; being a more productive and affordable organisation; stopping doing some things to focus on those that matter most to local people; investing in innovative ways of providing services; giving value for money; promoting and supporting self-reliance in our communities; focussing our limited resources on prevention and early intervention; and investing in infrastructure to promote local economic growth and job creation.
“As well as ensuring our main priorities for improvement are properly resourced, I want to create a Council that is financially stable. So we have taken a prudent approach in a time of unprecedented change and uncertainty in local government and of growing demand for some local services, such as care for the elderly and vulnerable.
“With skill and careful choices, we have created new opportunities to invest in the future of Cheshire East, whilst protecting the quality of our essential frontline services. It is about getting more from less – and using the resources of the whole community to help deliver local services to meet local needs.
“I will not try to disguise the fact that some difficult choices and decisions have been unavoidable. But we have stuck to our principles.”
The key elements of the Three-Year Financial Strategy are:
● Lifting the tax burden – no increase in Council Tax this year and next. This means that by 2015, we will have saved the average local taxpayer more than £470;
● Giving better value for money – cutting out millions of pounds of unnecessary costs and waste and working more efficiently, without affecting essential frontline services;
● Reducing management overheads and improving productivity – seeing the Council’s wages bill reduce by at least 20 per cent;
● ‘Sweating’ our assets – reducing the number of buildings and facilities we operate and sharing others with partners. Disposing of unwanted assets to free up millions of pounds;
● Growing our economy – Capital programme of over £220m, investing £25m in our road network and putting in the infrastructure to help deliver 27,000 new homes;
● Getting a better deal – entering into better contracts for a wide range of goods and services and, where suitable, set up our own businesses to provide innovative solutions;
● Retaining facilities at the heart of our communities – including: devolving more services and assets to the local level and new arrangements for running our 14 leisure centres to promote healthier lifestyles and which will reduce costs by £1m a year;
● Protecting the vulnerable and the elderly – we will reshape the local provision of social care to reduce reliance on costly specialist placements outside the Borough and help people to live independently for as long as possible;
● Showing that ‘prevention is better (and cheaper) than cure’ – we will invest more in improving early intervention and prevention for both vulnerable children and adults, targeting our services where they are needed most;
● Protecting the rights and entitlements of learners – We will act as ‘guardian’ of the interests of pupils, students and parents: protecting the vulnerable and ensuring standards are monitored and maintained. Additionally we will take steps to secure investment in better special school provision with ‘free school’ partners and pursue development of a new university technical college with our partners in Crewe.
Councillor Jones added: “We recognise that as a Council we will have to stop doing some things in order to focus resources on those that matter most to local people – as well as come up with innovative new ways to do things.
“This combination of sound financial management and bold creative thinking is what the people of Cheshire East are coming to expect from my leadership of this administration.
“Hard-pressed, hard-working local people and families can be confident that we are on their side – and that they can rely on us in these uncertain times to create greater prosperity for the whole of Cheshire East.”
Councillor Peter Raynes, Cabinet member in charge of finances, said in his budget report to Cabinet: “The Council is committed to maximising value for money and minimising the tax burden on residents. But this approach means local government must adapt to provide essential services to a standard that can be afforded.”
Council finance manager Christine Mann said in her report to Cabinet: “The projections for the next three years demonstrate that savings contained in the 2013/14 budget are essential and will greatly assist the Council in establishing longer-term financial stability.”
The finalised budget report will go before councillors for approval on February 28.