Clowes, Corcoran, Browne

Crucial Cheshire East Council budget plans were not shared with other councillors before going public, according to opposition leader Janet Clowes.

The council’s Labour-Independent cabinet revealed its proposed medium term financial strategy (MTFS) yesterday (January 26), which outlines the authority’s spending plans from 2021-25.

The final draft of the MTFS shows Council Tax will rise by 4.99% for the 2021/22 year, which translates to an annual 12-month bill of £1,579.03 for a Band D property.

Now, Conservative leader Cllr Janet Clowes says she cannot “comment in detail” on the document as she was “denied access… until it was published”.

Cllr Clowes said: “Unfortunately I’m unable to comment in detail because along with all elected councillors who are not members of Cabinet, we were denied access to the finalised budget until it was published last night — even cross-party scrutiny committees have only had the pre-consultation version to examine.

“In that version, CEC stated that they could provide a balanced budget with a Council Tax rise of 1.99%.

“But as soon as Government announced in the Local Government settlement that there was an option for a 3% adult social care precept over the next two years, CEC has opted to raise Council Tax by the whole amount, immediately, in the midst of the pandemic.

“I’m chairing Corporate Scrutiny on Thursday morning — this is a public meeting and the only opportunity for non-cabinet councillors to examine the new proposals before Cabinet next week.

“We will be looking for some answers then.”

However, CEC leadership says it is planning on reducing the effects of the rise on “lower income households”.

Cllr Amanda Stott, cabinet member for finance, said: “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%.”

The proposals will first have to be approved by a cabinet meeting on February 2, before going to a full council meeting on February 17 for the final sign-off.

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