council tax rises - budget

Cheshire East Council chiefs have set out plans to balance the books next year, writes Stephen Topping.

Consultation has begun on the first draft budget to be drawn up by a non-Conservative administration in the council’s history after Labour and the Independent Group struck a deal following May’s local elections.

And it sees the budget increase by £18.9 million to almost £300 million.

Cllr Sam Corcoran, CEC’s Labour leader, said: “We have had to set out our budget proposals based on what we know now.

“We cannot second guess what could happen in the General Election, it would not be a sensible way forward.

“I want to set a balanced budget for the next four years but Government has only announced a one-year settlement, so we cannot really plan ahead.”

Taxpayers look set to see their council tax bills increase by 1.99% each year from next April until 2023-24, while a 2% precept for adult social care is also set to be added in 2020-21.

Sam Corcoran

Sam Corcoran

CEC expects to rake in an additional £4.3 million from the tax increase in 2020-21, £4.3 million from the precept, £4.1 million in additional tax from 2,200 new homes, £1.3 million from business rates and £5.1 million from a Government social care grant – although no details on funding social care beyond 2020-21 have been revealed by Government.

Cllr Corcoran, CEC’s Labour leader, said: “We have an ageing population and this leads to increased social care costs.

“The Government has been promising a green paper on social care ever since the last General Election – it’s an issue that needs to be addressed.”

Major investments proposed include more than £38 million towards school provision, an extra £16 million for adult social care and £5.7 million more for cared for children’s services over the next four years.

One policy is the introduction of the Crewe town centre civic heat network, with a near £3 million investment proposed for 2020-21 for a project that would deliver heat and power for the town.

A contentious policy down the line could involve parking charges – with CEC proposing an extra £1.5 million of income from parking over the next couple of years.

Cllr Corcoran added: “A review will be conducted on a town by town basis – some prices will go up, some will remain the same, and there may be towns where prices drop.

“But the increase in revenue might not necessarily come from higher charges. Some towns are short of parking – if you provide an extra car park, you get extra money.”

Leader of Cheshire East Council’s Conservative opposition believes the Labour-independent administration should have done more with its first draft budget.

Janet Clowes, Conservative group leader cheshire east council 2019

Janet Clowes, Conservative group leader

Cllr Janet Clowes feels more attention must be paid to the years beyond 2020-21.

And the Conservative member for Wybunbury believes the spending plans included for the environment are modest considering CEC wants to become carbon neutral in six years.

She said: “Well done to the new administration on bringing forward what seems, on early examination, to be a balanced budget for 2019-20.

“However, there is little information in the wider financial strategy about how the significant pressures already identified for 2020-21 will be met.

“There is little direct investment in environment and climate-related projects that all groups pledged to support to help CEC meet its carbon targets and, interestingly, little attention has been paid to the ambitious manifesto plans that the Labour Party and indeed individual independent councillors put in their election literature.

“That is perhaps understandable because it is when setting budgets that the new Labour–independent coalition will have realised just how difficult it is to balance the books whilst providing over 500 statutory and essential services to Cheshire East residents.

Cllr Clowes added: “The major concern must be that while the end of year budget looks robust, there is little attention about how the pressures in years two and three will be met.

“In short, this budget has relied on a strong inherited financial position and has focused on using these windfalls to achieve a short-term balanced budget without considering the opportunities for forward-thinking, finance-raising projects that will protect the budget in future years.”

Consultation will end on January 6, before the final budget plans are considered in February.

To view the budget proposals and take part in the consultation, visit cheshireeast.gov.uk/budget

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