local elections - cheshire east council headquarters - pic by Mike Faherty

Residents in Cheshire East will face an increase in Council Tax from April after members approved the budget for next year, writes Stephen Topping.

A 2.99 per cent tax increase will come into effect – with the bill for a Band D property rising from £1,404.28 to £1,446.27.

Cllr Paul Bates, Conservative cabinet member for finance and communication on Cheshire East Council, told members the tax rise is ‘not an easy choice, but it is appropriate’.

“CEC’s budget sets out a sound strategy that builds on a strong financial management that has been effective to date,” he said.

“This is not a budget that has been put together for electioneering in an election year.

“It is one which is based on sound financial management, and meeting the needs of tomorrow, today. There is no jam tomorrow.”

The budget includes a £13.1 million increase in net revenue – with the council set to raise £5 million more in business rates and £10.9 million more in council tax receipts, taking into account housing growth.

One per cent of the council tax increase will be ringfenced for children’s services – with Cheshire East Council expecting to rake in £2.1 million to support youngsters.

CEC is set to use the cash to fund nine additional social workers, improve its provision for children with special educational needs and open four residential homes for children in care.

Cllr Arthur Moran, Nantwich North and West, is leader of CEC’s independent group, which was divided during the budget vote.

He welcomed the cash boost for children’s services, but criticised the way the Government has passed the buck on funding them.

And he suggested CEC had been forced to do the same to parish councils, meaning residents now face higher precepts.

“Gone are the heady days when the former leader [Michael Jones] announced a zero per cent increase in council tax,” Cllr Moran said.

“One particular year he even announced that it would be zero per cent the year after as well. But the chickens have really now come home to roost.

“The Government is pushing some of the expenditure to local government, as we saw with social care last year, and we are seeing with children’s care this year.

“CEC has done a similar thing to town and parish councils. Civic halls, toilets, markets, allotments, Christmas lights, town centre entertainment – all savings for CEC, but town and parish councils have had to pick up the money.”

CEC will see a £2.8 million reduction in Government grants – receiving no revenue support grant in 2020.

Cllr Sam Corcoran, leader of CEC’s Labour group, highlighted the cuts from central Government – and the increase in the police precept to fund additional officers.

He said: “We should be mindful of the other increases that will go out with the council tax bills. The police bill will go up.

“Nearly half of councils will receive no revenue support grant next year and CEC is one of them.

“But we are a wealthy borough, and we have been treated far better than many other authorities.”

Labour members voted against CEC’s budget, and Cllr Rod Fletcher, leader of the two-strong Liberal Democrat group, said he had ‘no confidence’ the council would carry out all its proposed savings.

He said: “There are many savings under the heading ‘changing the way we work’ – doing things better. But most, if not all of these savings, are pure guesswork.

“There are a number of areas in recent years where there has been an over-projection of income and proposed savings have not been realised.”

Support from the ruling Conservative group secured the budget’s approval in the vote.

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