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Thursday 30 June 2016

Council’s finances ‘strong and resilient’ but challenges lie ahead


Innovation and creativity will be the key to maintaining a strong and resilient performance for Cheshire East Council and its group of arms-length companies.

A report on the 2015-16 financial position places the Council in its strongest financial position yet with reserves of £93.3m, 85 per cent of which are being held for specific purposes.

But the report warns of further austerity, based on the latest government grant settlements and the potential for uncertainty in the wake of the referendum result and the intended exit from the European Union.

The Council will continue to focus on fairness, equity and meeting need, while also eliminating waste and unnecessary bureaucracy. It is committed to carrying out appropriate improvements in the area of governance and process.

Strong financial management delivered surpluses of £500,000 for the Council and £300,000 for the Council’s wholly owned companies.

Capital spending of £90.6m included completion of the Crewe Green link road and the Crewe Lifestyle Centre.  Net assets for the Council and wider group have increased to £363.1m, although positive changes in the pension deficit exaggerated the overall increase.

Councillor Peter Groves, Cabinet member for finance, says: “The 2015/16 accounts once again reflect strong financial and operational performance from the group.

“The strength and creative design of the group’s delivery arrangements, is reflected in the group’s excellent operational achievements that benefit local residents, businesses and visitors.

“It is important to recognise and celebrate how we continue to adopt the ‘best fit’ approach to service provision.

“We continue to operate within a challenging financial environment with the gradual loss of central government support grant up to 2019/20 placing significant challenges and responsibilities on the authority towards its older residents and the vulnerable.” 

The Council created two new ASDVs (Alternative Service Delivery Vehicle)  in Transport Services Solutions Ltd,  the public transport company and Civicance Ltd, the company specialising in building control, structural consultancy and planning advice.

Fairerpower, the Council’s low-cost community energy supplier, secured savings of £1.5m for its residents and now has more than 5,000 customers.

Ofsted has rated 92.7 per cent of the Borough’s schools as ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’, while refuse recycling rates place the Council in the top 10 per cent of local authorities and well above the national target of 50 per cent.

The Borough’s parks and open spaces continue to collect Green Flag awards and a survey of more than 300,000 people resulted in Cheshire East declared the happiest place to live in England.

But there is to be a decline in grant funding, from £40m in 2015/16 to zero by the 2019/20 financial year. This will have a significant impact on Council finances and the authority is working with its partners to identify sustainable solutions going forward.

The report to the audit and governance committee states: “The outcome of the recent referendum to leave the European Union is an unprecedented and seismic decision, which will be a factor in our forward planning arrangements.

“The Cheshire East Group has limited direct financial links with Europe but changes in the relationship between Europe and the UK – and any effect this has on local services, businesses and our economy – will need to be carefully considered.”

The report adds that an immediate priority will be to seek assurance that any European structural and investment funding in Cheshire East is maintained.

Overall, it will continue to put residents first by targeting appropriate support that protects the most vulnerable people in the community and providing good value for money services throughout the Borough.

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