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Thursday 12 February 2015

Budget planning shows Council is ‘in great shape’ financially – and set to freeze Council Tax for a fifth year running


Cheshire East Council’s Cabinet is ‘in great shape’ financially and set to freeze Council Tax for a fifth year running.

Financial reports voted through by Cabinet today (Wednesday, February 11) show that medium-term finances are well under control and set to generate a small budget surplus by year end.

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

Government grants have reduced substantially since 2009, leaving many local authorities with much-publicised ‘black holes’ in their accounts. Councils have also taken on more responsibilities, such as public health and Council Tax support.

But Cheshire East Council has responded robustly and swiftly – changing its operating model to provide a new and innovative approach to service delivery and operating more efficiently.

Under the Council’s medium-term financial strategy (2015-18) additional spending on key frontline services is also earmarked – with £6.5m extra for highways improvements and £1m extra spending for adult social care.

An ambitious capital programme also plans £0.5 billion of investment over three years.

Councillor Peter Raynes, Cabinet member in charge of finance, said: “Our performance in the third quarter of 2014/2015 shows we are once again well in control of our budgets.

“We are forecasting a slight under-spend (£0.2m), as we achieved in the past two years, and for 2015/16 will meet our target of saving £7.7m without compromising key services. The Council has achieved permanent savings of £5m in management costs alone over the past two years.

“Our three-quarter-year review demonstrates that the overall financial health, performance, resilience and value for money at Cheshire East Council are strong, despite taking £50m out of our costs base from 2011/12 and freezing Council Tax for the fourth consecutive year. We also propose to freeze Council Tax for a fifth year.

“Savings have been consistently achieved through efficiencies, removing management costs, removing duplication and a planned programme of asset disposals – in short, working smarter with the resources we have.

“This approach has protected funding to frontline services. The Council’s strong financial position reflects its enhanced governance, innovative delivery arrangement and effective stewardship of public money and reflects our focus on putting residents first.”

Cheshire East has again been recognised as the ‘Best Place to Live’ in the North West.

Reports show Cheshire East Council provides more than 500 services, supporting more than 370,000 residents, and more than 17,500 businesses.

Annual Council spending is more than £750m, with a proposed balanced net budget of £264.7m for 2015/16.

The Council has spent the last three years re-shaping, following an overhaul of its management structure, and is now a commissioning council, which has seen the launch of a raft of new arms-length alternative service delivery companies (ASDVs) 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 are 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.

Over the last financial quarter, examples of good performance were:

● More than 93 per cent of schools recognised by Ofsted as good or outstanding;

● More than 90 per cent coverage achieved for connecting superfast broadband;

● Grants contributed towards more than £3.5m of community-driven schemes.

On top of this, Cheshire East’s fostering and adoption services have won national recognition. 

Leader of the Council Councillor Michael Jones welcomed the reports as ‘great news’ and said: “This shows that Cheshire East really is in great shape for the future to continue to deliver for our residents.

“Local government is going through a period of unprecedented change and financial challenge. Cheshire East’s response continues to be based on innovation and creativity.

“We will be relentless in the pursuit of greater efficiency and productivity and minimising bureaucracy to enable the Council to deliver a high level of sustainable, quality services for residents.

“We are a ‘residents first’ Council and our approach to finance and formulating a budget underlines that commitment.

“The Council is sustaining great performance while still proposing to freeze Council Tax. This means that we are providing great value for money for the people of Cheshire East and will continue to do so.”

The decision of Cheshire Fire Authority to award itself an increase in its allowances, while increasing its precept by 1.99 per cent, drew criticism from Council leaders.

Cabinet member Councillor David Topping said: “I am disappointed that, in these austere times, the fire authority members have voted themselves a 2.2 per cent increase in their allowances – backdated to January 1.”

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