Cheshire East Council has published documents detailing its spending plans and priorities for the next four years ahead of a Council vote.
Following the publication of its 2021-25 Corporate Plan at the end of 2020, the full spending plans will be voted on by Cheshire East Council on 17th February. Included in the plans is the need to raise Council Tax for 2021/22 by the maximum 4.99%.
The medium-term financial strategy (MTFS) sets out the council’s planned income and expenditure over the next four years. This includes proposals for investment, savings and efficiencies, the level of council tax payable by residents, grants and other income.
The documents, initially published in draft last year, have been amended as a direct result of consultation, with the views of residents and other stakeholders helping to shape the final priorities and proposals put forward for formal approval. They have also been amended in the light of the ever-developing Covid-19 pandemic.
Cllr Amanda Stott, Cheshire East Council cabinet member for finance, said about the spending plans:
These are unprecedented times. This budget has been one of the most challenging to prepare.
“The two documents published today set out our plans for the next four years, giving us much-needed focus and direction at a time of great uncertainty and change in the face of the pandemic.
“We have listened to your feedback and responded to the changing situation to propose a balanced budget for the next four years. I am pleased that this is the first time ever we have put forward a balanced budget for a four-year period. We have also produced an ambitious corporate plan setting out our priorities for the same period.
“We are increasing our spending in people-based services by more than £12 million over the next four years. This will help to modernise and meet the demand for services such as social care, mental health and young people with additional needs.
“The council will also manage capital investments of £0.4 billion over the next four years on roads, schools, growth and enterprise and critical ICT services.
“At the same time, we are seeing a further reduction in government grant funding. We are balancing this with a mixture of cost savings and efficiencies, increased income from council tax, and making sure that we recover costs for the services for which we charge directly.
“In our draft consultation MTFS, we reluctantly included proposals for a number of significant changes to services. During the consultation process we have been able to analyse the government spending review and listen to feedback on our proposals from our residents and partners. We have been able to re-evaluate our proposals in the context of the ongoing pandemic and the value people place on our key services.
“Savings in our children’s services have been significantly reduced and we will provide funding to explore opportunities to significantly review our approach to services for young people. We will also fund our commitment to move towards being a carbon neutral council by 2025.
“Other savings, we think, need more time to plan to achieve the priorities of the corporate plan in a post-Covid environment, so we have adjusted the budget to reflect that too. This is affordable by retaining some difficult but achievable savings, in addition to raising council tax, in line with government expectations, by 4.99 per cent.”
Cheshire East Council’s finances have been impacted by rising costs of delivering services during the pandemic, although in December, the Chancellor did confirm a one-year financial settlement for councils. Cllr Stott added:
Councils face very difficult choices and must strike a balance between protecting vital local services and keeping council tax rises to a minimum. We know that the proposed 4.99 per cent increase in council tax for 2021/22 will be a concern for many residents.
“This equates to about £1 per week for the average household. We are looking to reduce the impact of this rise on lower income households through changes to our council tax support scheme. Beyond 2021/22 we are proposing smaller increases in council tax of 1.99 per cent.
“This is part of a four-year balanced strategy, reflecting preferences voiced through consultation responses, of increasing council tax, implementing service efficiencies and increasing income from fees and charges. This approach will allow us to maintain sustainable services, giving greater financial certainty and retaining our commitment to carbon reduction.
“As the pandemic continues, and we look beyond to the council’s role in helping the borough, its businesses, communities and residents recover, it is essential that we put the council onto a secure financial footing and have a clear vision from which to build.”