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Tuesday 4 March 2014

Borough’s ‘in great shape’ financially


Cheshire East Council has revealed its (2014-17) budget which shows the finances are well under control and proposes a council tax freeze for the fourth year running.

A balanced budget, low unemployment and continued high levels of investment across the borough, confirms that Cheshire East Council is working smarter to deliver the best for taxpayers.

Government grants have dramatically reduced since 2009, leaving a much-talked-about black hole in many local authorities’ accounts.

Local authorities have also taken on more responsibilities such as public health, sixth form education and council tax support. But despite this Cheshire East Council has responded swiftly changing its operating model to fit a new approach to service delivery.

Cabinet member in charge of the budget Councillor Peter Raynes addressed the public during the executive meeting in Crewe (Feb 27) and delivered in a speech as part of his ‘health check’ on the borough’s economy, plus the steps taken by the Council to achieve a reduction in expenditure.

He said: “Our performance in the third quarter of 2013/2014 shows we are now well in control of our budgets. We are forecasting a slight under-spend, as we achieved last year, and we will have met our target of saving £7m without compromising key services.

“In last year’s budget we took the first steps towards becoming a commissioning council. By this we mean a council that focuses its money and staff on delivering outcomes that people want and not on running a bureaucracy.”

The Council has spent the last two years re-shaping, following an overhaul of its management structure, and is now a commissioning council with proposals for a raft of new Arm’s Length Companies and a new permanent management team.

This new way of working is designed to provide the benefits of a more commercial approach to services while ensuring that profits and accountability is maintained for the good of the people.

Sensible investment has delivered a series of successes over the past twelve months proving Cheshire East can deliver results from a leaner budget despite the Council’s spending power per household being 17 per cent less than other similar authorities.

These include:

  • Best adoption service programme in the country 2013;
  • Officially the best place to live in the North West;
  • The best recycling rate in the North West at 54 per cent;
  • Carbon reduction on track to be cut by 25 per cent by 2016;
  • £1m extra invested in our Local Plan;
  • Free car parking after 3pm in some areas, more free car parks and frozen tariffs;
  • Library satisfaction rates at 95 per cent; and
  • One of the lowest costing ICT strategies in the country.

Councillor Raynes added: “In this budget we also announce the most ambitious Capital Plan Cheshire East has seen, a plan funded mainly by attracting Government and commercial investment, a plan exceeding £400m over the next five years.

“Such a plan must be affordable, not funded by local taxes. We have the lowest debt level in our comparable group of Councils, with net assets of over £200m and I have every intention of keeping it that way.”

Leader of the Council Councillor Michael Jones praised the budget and said: “This shows that Cheshire East is in great shape for the future. This is a resident-first approach to the budget and I applaud that.

“It will be necessary to increase some of our fees and charges for services such as pest control, but these are in line with inflation and we are still providing these services way below market value. However, the residents of Cheshire East are still receiving good value for money with the current council tax freeze representing around £200 saved for every household.

“The Council is sustaining great performance while still freezing council tax. This means that as predicted we are providing great value for the people of Cheshire East and will continue to do so.

“The simple fact is life for residents is good and officers and members are working hard to deliver more for less.”

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