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Sunday 25 February 2018

Cheshire East passes balanced budget and injects more cash into borough’s roads

Cheshire East Council has passed a sound budget to protect frontline services and deliver value for local people.

A vote by full council today backed several key financial reports that put the authority on course to deliver balanced finances in 2018-19, while protecting key frontline services and delivering on its strategic outcomes for residents.

The council also voted to invest an additional £7m in highways in response to concerns over the condition of some of the borough’s roads.

The council also voted to protect its highways budget from further cuts adding an additional £2m to the capital budget to invest in the borough’s roads maintenance programme.

The final government grant settlement, announced recently, will allow the council to spend a further £907,000 in adult social care and £37,000 on its homeless strategy – aimed at preventing rough sleeping and keeping people in some form of accommodation.

Leisure centre users in Crewe and Nantwich will continue to receive a refund for car parking in two council car parks – Snow Hill, Nantwich and the library car park in Crewe.

Council Tax will increase by 5.99 per cent in 2018-19. This adds £1.39 per week to the average household Council Tax bill. A Band D property bill will rise from £1,324.92 to £1,404.28 – an increase of £1.53 per week.

Importantly, three per cent of the tax rise will boost services for the vulnerable and elderly.

The decisions follow a pre-Budget Consultation 2018-21, launched in November, which set out initial proposals for how the council could target resources more effectively and save money – while achieving balanced finances. 

A key proposal sees the council earmark £2m from the New Homes Bonus scheme to be used in our communities, via a method under consideration.

Following extensive consultation, the revenue budget will be balanced for 2018-19 with net revenue spending of £268.8m and total capital investment of £326.1m identified over the next three years. A total of £197m is estimated to be spent over the next three years on maintaining and improving our highways network.

Cheshire East invited feedback from residents, businesses, councillors, staff, town and parish councils and other stakeholders to inform its proposals and decisions. This consultation will be ongoing over the next three years.

As a listening authority, the council reflected on people’s comments and amended some of its proposed savings before today’s budget vote. These included:

· £7m added to capital highways improvement programme to address public concern about local roads;

· A decision to keep all libraries open – axing proposals to close those in Alderley Edge, Disley and Prestbury.

The budget-setting meeting of council took place against a challenging national context of an overall public sector deficit, which is being partly met by big reductions in government grants to councils, and rising demand for both adult social care and children in care.

For Cheshire East, this means expected reductions of central government grants, inflationary costs and rising demand totalling more than £70m over the next three years.

The council will meet this financial challenge via a mix of tax increases and changing its service offer. The aim is to make the council financially self-sufficient by reducing its reliance on central government revenue support grant from £40m in 2015/16 to nil in 2020.

Tough choices have to be made, once again, to ensure Cheshire East can target services to people who need them most. Locally funding services puts control back with local people but also comes with the responsibility to fund them in a sustainable way.

Jan Willis, Cheshire East Council’s interim executive director of corporate services, said: “These financial reports and budget outline how the council has continued to build on the solid achievements of recent years and continues to maintain robust financial health.

“The year ahead presents a number of challenges for all UK local authorities, as increasing demand in care services for children and adults, plus other pressures, are compounded by falls in government funding – a funding reduction totalling £14.8m this year for Cheshire East and set to fall by a further £11.9m in 2018/19.

“In Cheshire East, the number of residents receiving care and support from adult social care is increasing by four per cent a year and the number of children in social care placements has increased by 17 per cent in the last year, in line with other councils.

“The council’s net expenditure on adult social care services was almost £100m in 2016/17, which is three-times the spending on any other service area. This council will continue to prioritise services for vulnerable people, despite the financial challenges. However, this means other services will need to deliver savings.”

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