Cheshire East Council has launched its Budget Consultation Report for 2021 to 2025.
Set against a backdrop of the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, increasing demand and rising costs, the consultation sets out service proposals and financial plans for the period from 1 April 2021 through to 31 March 2022.
The impact of COVID-19 has created unprecedented levels of uncertainty around the medium-term finances of local authorities in England. Cheshire East Council is no different in that respect and many assumptions underlying the consultation proposals may still be subject to change, requiring the council to be flexible and have an adaptable approach.
The budget consultation document outlines how the council is managing the financial challenges of COVID-19. Without the impact of the pandemic, the 2020/21 budget would have presented a strong base. However, the levels of demand for services, and rising costs linked to inflation, present significant medium-term funding deficits.
The council has reported a potential £13 million funding deficit related to the impact of COVID-19 in 2020/21, in addition to an already identified shortfall of £12 million in 2021/22.
This year, given the move towards more virtual interactions as a result of the on-going pandemic, the consultation is being produced as an online survey which will contain the background to the financial situation the council is currently facing along with the facility to review and comment on the proposals being put forward.
The council is inviting the opinions and views from residents, businesses, councillors, staff, town and parish councils, local community groups and other stakeholders. The feedback received will be used to inform the budget setting process.
Councillor Amanda Stott, Cheshire East Council cabinet member for Finance, ICT and Communications, said:
The financial impact of the Coronavirus pandemic on Cheshire East and Cheshire East Council has been huge. The council, like every other local authority, is having to deal with unprecedented financial pressures due to increasing demand particularly in adult and children’s social care and our statutory duties to protect our most vulnerable residents.
“The budget setting process is inevitably going to be a challenge this year and we will have to take some tough decisions about our services and future spending.
“Council tax only raises around one third of the money needed to fund the hundreds of local services we provide across Cheshire East. Whilst central government have given councils the ability to increase council tax by five per cent (three per cent of which will be specifically allocated to fund adult social care) this is higher than was initially assumed.
“The council wants to listen to all feedback on this consultation before coming to any final recommendation about how best to balance the additional funding we receive from government and income, with the rising demand for the services we deliver.
“Our draft budget prioritises critical frontline services and investment in our recovery from the Coronavirus pandemic. We will redesign some services and continue to transform the council to ensure maximum efficiency while protecting the most vulnerable, supporting our businesses and growing our local economy through this time of unprecedented financial challenge.
“But now more than ever before, I would strongly urge everyone to play their part. We need to hear your views on our draft budget proposals, so we get an understanding of your priorities, needs and aspirations for our services and your local community.”
The budget consultation runs until 8 January 2021.
Following the consultation and after feedback has been considered, budget proposals will be refined and updated before the final budget is agreed by full council on 17 February 2021. Residents can contribute their feedback via the Council’s website.