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Saturday 2 March 2013

Council passes robust Three-Year Plan

Sound financial management and bold thinking: Council passes robust Three-Year Plan to secure vital services, protect the vulnerable and deliver value for money for the people of Cheshire East

Cheshire East Council has passed a robust three-year plan to secure vital services, protect the vulnerable and continue to deliver value for money for the people of the Borough – while nurturing economic growth.

In his report voted through by Full Council yesterday (Thursday), Cheshire East Council Leader Councillor Michael Jones said Council Tax will be frozen for the third year running – and the following year (2014/15).

This means that by 2015, the Council will have saved the average local taxpayer more than £470.

He also announced the authority would deliver robust, balanced budgets for the next three years. He commended the budget to members as being one which ‘believes in aspiration’ – and ‘aspires for the best for the people of Cheshire East’.

A radical shake-up of Council management will make the authority ‘more agile’, 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 Jones said: “This budget, as part of my promise as leader, is open and transparent. Far more than that, it tackles a national problem, head on.

“It says that this Council believes in aspiration, it believes that Britain is great and that Britain must be aspirational.

“This budget is more than numbers. It is about how a modern council delivers services to the people – not relying on spend and bust or resorting to reckless policies of increasing Council Tax and slashing public services.

“This budget says there is a ‘different’ way. We can work together as a council, officers and members together, to deliver a vision of the highest quality public services ever.

“This is a three-year budget which lays down new structures, new jobs and most importantly, new delivery models with a new design and desire.”

In his report he said Cheshire East’s 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.

Councillor Jones added: “I anticipate strong conversations between members as we are all passionate about what we represent, but these conversations are to emancipate the best, elevate the average and threaten the worst. Most officers in Cheshire East  will be emancipated by this budget.

“I have often used the term ‘agile council’ and I hope people will see that we have an agile leadership.

“But now we have a Council which will be bold and able, learning from colleagues elsewhere and working in partnership like never before, for the people and with the people.

“We may have come a long way but the journey has only just begun. This budget is just another step on the road to delivering the very best for the people of Cheshire East. We must be aspirational in our goals and agile in our delivery.”

The key elements of the Three-Year Financial Strategy are:

Freezing Council Tax – 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;

Providing 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 costs and improving productivity – seeing the Council’s wage bill reduce by at least 20 per cent;

Making the most of 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;

Delivering a better deal for you – 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 community facilities – including: devolving more services and assets to the local level and new arrangements for running our 14 leisure centres to promote healthier lifestyles;

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;

Supporting children and adults in need – we will invest more in improving early intervention and prevention for both vulnerable children and adults, targeting our services where they are needed most;

Focusing on our residents’ learning – 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.

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