Labour - funding - chief executive appointed

Cheshire East Council chiefs are confident they will balance the books this financial year and next – but insist the future is less certain, writes Stephen Topping.

Authority staff were asked for cost-cutting ideas by Kath O’Dwyer, acting chief executive, last November as the council faced a £7.5 million overspend for 2019-20.

That figure has been cut down to £6.8 million, and CEC will plug the gap with £4.4 million from its reserves and £2.4 million from the sale of shares it held in Manchester Science Partnerships.

Now, CEC’s cabinet has endorsed the authority’s budget plans for 2020-21, which went out to consultation last autumn and are expected to produce a balanced budget for the year ahead.

Independent Cllr Amanda Stott, cabinet member for finance, ICT and communication, said: “The proposals were refined during the consultation. This recognised the feedback, as well as the financial challenges being managed within the 2019-20 financial year.

“Achieving a balanced budget in the medium term is going to be challenging, with increased demand and uncertainty about Government funding strategies.

“Reserves cannot be used to support the council’s financial stability in the medium to long term, so planning and engagement will start even earlier for 2021-22.”

Spending was due to increase in next year’s budget by £18.9 million – but following the consultation that increase has risen to £20 million.

It will include a 3.99 per cent rise in council tax which will rake in an extra £8.6 million for the council – including a two per cent precept for adult social care – while CEC will also rake in an extra £8.3 million in tax from new properties.

Additional income will come from Government in a one-year social care grant, but ‘unachievable savings targets’ have been removed, while demand for both adult and children’s social care continues to rise.

CEC is also waiting for future announcements from Government on how social care will be funded beyond 2021-22, while the Government’s new ‘fair funding formula’ is also set to change the amount of money provided to councils in the years to come.

Labour Cllr Jill Rhodes, cabinet member public health and corporate services, said: “We need a change from the Government, we need that green paper on social care, we need some extra funding for schools in Cheshire East.

“Because without that, this council will continue to have that pressure on its budget to meet those funds, which it cannot sustain from its council tax revenue.”

Two additional proposals brought to cabinet by Cllr Janet Clowes, leader of CEC’s Conservative group, where accepted by Cabinet on Tuesday.

They involve plans for a new car park on council-owned land in Macon Way, Crewe, and two new facilities for supported living and adult social care.

Both schemes – designed to save CEC money in the long term – will require detailed feasibility studies before being confirmed as projects for the council.

The new car park would cost £800,000 and could rake in £190,000 a year, while the two facilities would require a £12 million capital investment, but they could save the council £1.7 million a year.

Cllr Clowes added: “This approach does not destabilise the balanced budget strategy of this administration, but provides valid and valuable short and mid-term proposals that offer meaningful financial benefits within appropriate timeframes.”

Councillors will vote on whether to adopt the budget on Thursday, February 20.

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